2021 – the year that was

Bill Morris speaks with MAJ Hobson after the service. Picture: MIKAYLA VAN LOON

First responders recognised

By Taylor Eastwell

Cockatoo resident Graham Mummery was awarded an Ambulance Service Medal as part of the 2021 Australia Day Honours List, after 37 years of dedicated service to Ambulance Victoria.

Living his life by the motto “I’m here to make a difference”, Mr Mummery works as an advanced life support paramedic, and has provided high quality clinical care at a range of emergency incidents.

But when he received the news that he had won the award, it caught him out of the blue.

“It was very much a surprise,” Mr Mummery said.

“I try to live by being here to make a difference, sometimes that difference is profound in treatment, sometimes it might be holding someone’s hand while they pass so they can pass peacefully, sometimes it might be offering a shoulder for someone to cry on,” he said.

Having played bagpipes his whole life, Mr Mummery helped found Ambulance Victoria’s Pipes and Drums Band in 2009.

“There was only two dedicated ambulance pipe bands in the world, we (Ambulance Victoria) make up number three,” he said.

“It’s just a fun way to represent our service in a positive light, playing bagpipes and drums,” he said.

Ambulance Victoria’s Pipes and Drums Band have played twice in Florida and in Dublin to a crowd of 1.5 million people.

The Hills on the silver screen

By Taylah Eastwell

In February, Australian drama film Disclosure made its debut in Australia cinemas. Directed and written by the Patch resident Michael Bentham, the film was shot entirely in the Dandenong Ranges.

“As an outsider from the UK, I noticed the Dandenong Ranges have these real contrasts in the landscape,” Mr Bentham said.

“You’ve got this temperate rainforest with tail mountain ash gums everywhere and then peppered among that amazing bush are these pockets of European architecture.”

The film – which centres around two families embroiled in a conflict after a four-year-old girl makes an allegation against the son of a politician – has been well received since release and currently has 100 per cent positive review rating on critic website Rotten Tomatoes.

‘Skyscraper’ battle begins

In March a long running battle between a local community group and a proposed development of a multi-story aged care facility began.

Glengollan Village, a not-for-profit that has been on been on Saint Elmo Avenue for since 1956, proposed to expand across the road and build a new two-storey facility to house 108 residents. Local residents organised and fought against the idea, which resulted in Knox City Council rejecting the planning permit because of 463 objections from 385 objectors.

The battle didn’t end there, with Glengollan Village appealing the decision with the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal with a hearing set for April 2022.

Not to be deterred, the community group has been raising money for a solicitor to represent them at VCAT and in November showed Transport Matters Upper House MP Rod Barton around the street, who promised to table the group’s petition in the Victorian Parliament in January.

Keep an eye on this story because it is sure to continue well into 2022.

Belgrave wizard

By Taylor Eastwell

Sitting at a bustling Belgrave cafe with the town’s very own “wizard“ Baba Desi, the love for the quirky Hills local quickly becomes apparent.

From small children yelling out ’It’s the pirate!“, to local shopkeepers and curious tourists, 91-year-old Des Burgen takes the time to strike up a conversation with each and every human that glances his way.

Mesmerised by his colourful robes, turbaned head, ever-growing collection of rustic jewels and his hand-crafted wooden staff that makes him all the more wizard–like, there aren’t many who would pass up the opportunity to get to know the loved Hills local.

But when Baba Desi was approached by Upwey documentary photographer Pauline Klemm late last year, he had no idea the friendship that was about to form.

“Anyone that lives in the Hills sees him walking around all the time, and so had I. You always have thoughts when you see him, you think gosh he’s an interesting guy, I’d love to go talk to him,” Ms Klemm said.

“For the last six months or so, every time I saw him I thought – he is a photographer’s dream, I need to ask if I can photograph him, but I just kept passing him thinking it,” she said.

One day, as Ms Klemm was driving past Upwey train station, she saw Baba Desi walk past. After doing a quick U-turn, she pulled up and approached the friendly wizard, asking if she could take a photo of him for her portfolio.

“He said he’s used to it, that’s he’s been on TV, on this show and interviewed by this and that, and I thought wow, this man has such a story,” she said.

Old Soldier’s last wish

By Mikayla Van Loon

It might have been wishful thinking when Bill Morris, 96, told his nurse he wanted to attend one last Anzac Day march but little did he know it could all be possible.

On a day like none other, Mercy Place Montrose staff, residents, family and strangers joined to give Mr Morris his final wish, by bringing Anzac Day to him.

What was meant to be an intimate service with just Mr Morris’ family, turned into a heartwarming ceremony of people from all over.

Lifestyle coordinator at Mercy Place, Dee Halligan said she looked into getting Mr Morris into the city but it wasn’t going to be possible.

“Physically and with his medical condition, it just was not possible to get him into the city. So I thought, well, I’ll bring Anzac to him,” she said.

“He’ll be lucky if he sees another Anzac Day.” After getting in contact with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs, Ms Halligan said the process was not easy but everything seemed to fall into place. 200 hand-made poppies turned the courtyard into a sea of red and an Australian flag raised to half mast stood in the centre.

The feeling of community spirit has never been more poignant than it was standing together as one. Residents who were able, filed out and took their place among the crowd.

Others watched from the glass windows above.

New SES unit requested

Unit controllers at two local SES branches are calling for a third unit to be established in the Dandenong Ranges as emergency services struggle to keep up with callouts to the Hills.

Emerald SES unit controller Ben Owen and Lilydale SES unit controller Shaun Caulfield are “keen to sit down and have a conversation” with the appropriate ministers around establishing a new unit for ridge-top communities after both units were inundated with calls to Kalorama, Mt Dandenong and Olinda during the recent storm. z

While the units proudly “work as one” in natural disasters and emergencies, the wide coverage areas of both crews stretches resources when action is required in disasterprone

areas of the Dandenongs. Mr Owen said the need for a further unit really showed during the recent wild weather.

“It only showed on Wednesday night (9 June) when we had 12 code one responses in Kalorama, Mt Dandenong and Olinda to rescue people that had trees on their houses. Basically, every SES unit is around 25 minutes away on a normal day, and that’s when you aren’t cutting up trees in order to get to the job,” he said.

Lilydale SES received over 1260 callouts in the week following the storm, with 900 of those jobs situated across Mount Dandenong communities, taking resources away from the wider Yarra Ranges area as it experienced flooding.

“As we found out recently, there really is only one road to Kalorama and that is Mt Dandenong Tourist Road. We came across a section that had about 50 trees down and that effectively cuts us off from getting up there and cuts residents off from getting help,” Mr Caulfied said.

‘Button Man’ horror to hit screens

By Taylah Eastwell

Two Hills filmmakers have created a horror film based on a series of eyewitness encounters with a ghastly bushman said to roam the Victorian High Country.

A number of stories have come to light over the years about a mysterious loner known as The Button Man, said to have earned his nickname from his habit of cutting buttons and ear piercings out of deer antlers.

Legend has it, the seasoned and territorial hunter has a base camp set up at a well-known crossroads in the Victorian Alps, allowing him to keep a close watch on campers and hikers entering the remote valley.

While you could read online for hours about the encounters people have had with the rugged bushman – who is described as around 70-years of age – one particularly hair-raising account comes from a wildlife photographer who was in the area taking shots near The Button Man’s headquarters.

The tale goes, when the photographer returned home from the High Country and downloaded photos he had taken onto his computer, he found a picture of himself sound asleep in his tent. To this day, no one knows who took the shot.

Others have taken to four-wheel-drive forum websites to report their own encounters, a common theme being The Button Man’s tendency to silently emerge in the dead of the night and grill people on why they are in the area.

Without retelling the myriad of personal stories, it is plain to see why Upper Ferntree Gully local Josh Todaro and Sassafras raised Jaime Lehman decided to create a horror film inspired by real life events flowing out of the eerie pocket of Victoria.

A speedy arrival

By Taylah Eastwell

Many minds wonder what happens if you are pulled over while speeding to the hospital in labour, but for little Bonnie Petersen and her parents, that exact question will prompt one of the greatest 21st birthday stories imaginable.

When Jenae Petersen’s waters broke around 11.25pm on Saturday 14 August, her husband Paul knew he didn’t have time to waste. Ms Petersen had a history of short labours with their two young sons, and Paul wasn’t taking any chances on a last minute roadside birth.

After the couple frantically called Ms Petersen’s sister-in-law to come and watch their boys, they piled into the car and left their Mooroolbark home for the Angliss Hospital in Upper Ferntree Gully.

“When my waters broke that was the first sign of labour and that was when the contractions started between four and five minutes apart,” Ms Petersen said.

“I went into labour pretty much straight away. We got into the car and realised we needed petrol, so we chucked some petrol in but by the time we got from Manchester Road to just before the basketball stadiums on Liverpool Road, I had completely changed. I couldn’t talk, I was in full blown labour, so my husband started speeding,” she said.

The distressed couple were doing their best to make it to the hospital, with little Bonnie in a rush to enter the world, when they noticed the dreaded blue and red flashing lights in their rear-view mirror.

“We saw the coppers chuck a u-turn behind us. We kept going, not as fast, but they pulled us over and my husband jumped out and said ‘my wife is in labour I’ve got to get her to hospital’,” Ms Petersen said.

“They shone their torch in and had one look at me and just said ‘Angliss? Follow us’,” she said.

Freedom at last

For 262 days, metropolitan Melbourne faced the toughest and longest lockdown in the world, making the taste of freedom sweeter than ever.

Cafes, restaurants and bars, as well as hairdressers, were the first to emerge from the stay-at-home orders, as the restrictions placed on people lifted on Friday 22 October.

Hills residents didn’t waste any time getting back to normality, making bookings for breakfast, lunch and dinner wherever they could get in.

But while the excitement for patrons was obvious, restaurant owners and cafe managers said the stress of density limits, policing vaccinations and staffing, had made the return to dining-in quite stressful.

Andrew from The Belgrave Hotel said his bookings for the first weekend out of lockdown were full but he was limited by the density restraints.

“I think people are still a little bit scared to get out but we’ve got some good bookings for tonight (22 October) and tomorrow night because we can basically only have 20 inside and it’s very important for us to stick to these rules,” he said.

Alan from Ranges at Olinda said aside from checking whether every customer has had a double dose of the vaccine, he doesn’t have enough staff who have been fully vaccinated to operate completely. “Our difficulty is that some of our crew have only had the one vaccination and are waiting for the second one to come on board and we can’t open as such for seated people unless all of the staff are fully vaccinated,” he said.

Tragic accident

By Mikayla Van Loon

Two people sadly died in Cockatoo on the morning of Friday 10 September, after a tree fell on their vehicle.

The driver, an 82-year-old Cockatoo man and his passenger, a 78-year-old Cockatoo woman, were travelling north along Woori Yallock Road around 10.30am when the tree fell and crushed their utility vehicle.

Ambulance Victoria said paramedics were called to the scene around 10.35am but the occupants of the vehicle died at the scene.

Emerald SES unit controller Ben Owen confirmed two SES vehicles and four crews were also in attendance.

He said the SES fulfilled its role by assisting police in recovering the bodies of the two deceased persons throughout the day.

Cardinia Highway Patrol sergeant Paul Holtzinger said it’s never easy attending a job like the one on Friday.

“The circumstances are extremely tragic. What hits home for us is they were just driving along, going about their business,” he said.

“All emergency services are never great at attending these things, no one’s ever quite the same afterwards but we have the agency support to help us get through.”

From early investigations, which happened all throughout Friday and over the weekend, sergeant Holtzinger said it looked like a case of “wrong place, wrong time.”

“There’s nothing indicating anything other than a freak accident,” he said.

SES opening

By Parker McKenzie

Shortly after a flag raising ceremony opened the new Emerald SES building, the unit received the first call out from their new home.

Jim Paxton, Jenna Perry and Tom Johnson piled into the vehicle as they lifted the roller doors for the first time to respond to community call out for a fallen tree.

The brief ceremony was attended by members of the Emerald SES unit and local Gembrook MP Brad Battin a week before the official opening on Saturday 27 November.

Unit Controller Ben Owen said opening the new building was a relief that had been a long time coming.

“It’s taken five years for concept drawings and the building process to be done,” he said.

“I’ve been in the SES seven years and we all assumed we were going to get a new building soon and that was seven years ago.”

Emerald SES has received close to 1700 calls for assistance so far in 2021 through heavy storms throughout the area. Mr Owen said members have slept on the floor of the old building because they couldn’t get home through bad weather.

“To come into a state of the art building where the generators turn on by itself, the space for people to work safely, automated everything so the trucks can drive out with a press of a button instead of padlocks and chains will make such a difference,” “In terms of recruitment and retention we’ll get volunteers running through the doors to join and be a part of this.”

Mr Owen also thanked Mr Battin for his work in ensuring the facility and Emerald SES was properly funded.

CFA honours Commander Peter Lucas

By Parker McKenzie

CFA members and associations around Victoria have shown an outpouring of support for the achievements and life of Commander Peter Lucas upon hearing of his passing.

Mr Lucas passed away on 28 November after a battle with illness.

CFA acting chief officer Garry Cook said Mr Lucas made an impact around the state throughout his long career as a firefighter.

“He received the highest accolade in Australia when he was awarded the Australian Fire Service Medal in recognition of his contribution to the fire services,” Mr Cook said.

“In particular in recognition of his work in peer support, he was a pioneer in peer support programs which is firefighters caring for firefighters after traumatic events or during tough circumstances.”

Mr Lucas started his CFA career as a junior member of Ferntree Gully fire brigade in 1971 at 15-years-old, before becoming a volunteer member in 1973.

He became a career firefighter in 1975 before serving in the Boronia, Bendigo and Dandenong fire brigades.

His funeral service on 9 December was attended by hundreds of coworkers and members of the community who Mr Lucas made an impact with.

A guard of honor was held in his honour featuring CFA vehicles and helicopters.