By Jackson Russell
One Kilmore veteran is part of a 94-strong group helping veterans affected by the bushfires that decimated East Gippsland.
Retired Sergeant Gary ‘Gazza’ Sturdy was a chef in the Australian Army for 22 years and took it upon himself to feed volunteers, veterans and current soldiers in East Gippsland as part of Operation Veteran Assist.
Mr Sturdy, a Kilmore Wallan RSL member, called in a favour and borrowed a mobile field kitchen from an army base in Albury-Wodonga to feed about 250 people on the ground every day.
“I said I would take full control of feeding the boys. I didn’t have the capacity to do that with the equipment I have,” he said.
Mainfreight helped Mr Sturdy ship the kitchen from Albury-Wodonga to Orbost and threw in a 1200-litre fridge for good measure, while Bunyip Fire Brigade transported 19 pallets of water to support the cause.
Along with his team of volunteers, Mr Sturdy has been in Orbost since January 10 and has served up 750 meals every day from food donated from across Victoria.
“I put the call out to the Wallan and Kilmore communities to help me get some food and whatever they could to help me out. The response was outstanding,” Mr Sturdy said.
They have not just fed volunteer veterans, but active soldiers from the Royal Australian Regiment Taskforce B Squadron sent to aid the recovery efforts, and who had been surviving on ration packs since arriving in East Gippsland.
Through Operation Veteran Assist, veterans have used their years of training, skills and experience to help communities in need in Orbost and Bruthen.
Kilmore Wallan RSL president Rod Dally said veterans have helped clear blocks of land, fallen trees and had helped a flower farmer get back on his feet by planting new seeds in his fields.
“They got their hands on all the seeds they need, they cleared all his land and planted all his seeds so he can get going again,” he said.
“It’s something that’s arranged outside the whole system and it’s worked. They’ve got chainsaw operators, plumbers, carpenters, all these old skills from the army.”
“The work that Gary did as far as organising logistics and feeding 300 people a day was his baby. He’s just a go-getter.”