Terry Hunter knows the bush like the back of his hand — the smell of the eucalypts, the sound of the birds, the colour of the sand.
He also knows how quickly it can all go up in flames and devastate communities.
For the past 50 years, Mr Hunter has been on the frontline battling countless bushfires in the South West and across the country as a volunteer fire control officer at Cardiff Volunteer Bush Fire Brigade.
And on Sunday, he was honoured with a 50 years service medal at Collie’s Australia Day awards, pinned to his pocket beside his Australian Fire Service Medal and his National Medal.
When you go into this type of thing, you never expect to be recognised in any way, shape or form. To receive a medal is always an honour and very humbling.
Growing up on a sheep farm in Mcalinden, 30km south-east of Collie, Mr Hunter knew the dangers of fire at a young age.
“It was just part of everyday life,” he said. “When you’re developing a property, you’re clearing and burning all the time – it’s an ongoing thing.
“You become very familiar with fire and how it behaves.”
He joined the Cardiff brigade at 16 and rose through the ranks, taking on the role of chief bushfire control officer of the Collie Shire in the 1980s, which he did for three decades.
He was also the president of the Bushfire Association of WA for about 10 years, was chairman of the South West Regional Operations Committee, and has sat on a number of State bushfire advisory bodies.
And all the while, he has maintained a job in the mining industry.
The father of three and grandfather of five said it was all only made possible by his loving, supportive family.
Even though I wear the uniform and have the accolades, it’s the family that have made the sacrifice.
“It’s them that go without when I have to pack up during the middle of a function to attend to a fire or take phone calls in the middle of the night and make noise. Without their support you couldn’t do it.”
Mr Hunter emphasised the importance of fireproofing homes and having volunteers in local fire brigades to make a town resilient and able to stand on its own two feet in a disaster.
During the past five decades, Mr Hunter has seen both sides of the coin, from devastation and loss when blazes tear through communities, to happiness and joy when homes are saved.
He said seeing the joy on people’s faces when they found out they had a home to go back to was the most rewarding part and he would continue to battle blazes for as long as his health allowed.