Catherine Joyce, firefighter working on chainsaw

Heavily pregnant with her first child, Cath watched as Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFMVic) crews headed towards Towong to protect lives and property directly in the path of the out-of-control bushfire.

“I remember sitting on the front verandah with a face mask on, watching the crews leave, and bawling my eyes out,” Cath recalled.

“I felt so hopeless. Everyone was out fighting the fire, and if I wasn’t pregnant, I would’ve been with them. It was tough.”

On maternity leave, but determined to help, Cath went to the Corryong FFMVic office and took on the role of radio operator.

“I needed to do something. I couldn’t just sit there and watch,” she said.

“Everyone was under pressure and doing the best that they could. For me, it was nice to be able to come back to work and feel like I contributed in some small way.”

The fire, which started near Walwa on the New South Wales and Victorian border, would burn until mid-January and destroy 82 homes, impact hundreds of properties, and kill more than 6000 livestock.

A week after the fire was contained, Cath and husband Joel welcomed the safe arrival of their first child, Archie.

“Looking back, it was a pretty hectic time for everyone, including us.”

“I have so much admiration for everyone who helped fight the fires, all the firefighters, and the community which rallied together and supported each other.”
Cath Davies, Forest Fire Management Officer

As part of the recovery program, Cath and FFMVic colleague Nathan Hewatt were appointed as leaders of the Towong Community Recovery Committee.

The committee, which continues to meet, has led the completion of a range of local projects in the Towong district while also helping to bring everyone back together.

“I think we have achieved a fair bit for our little town, obtaining grant funding for a walking track, community barbeque facilities and various events.”

“If there is a silver lining to the bushfires, it’s that it has brought everyone together. It’s made us all even more aware of the importance of community, and what can be achieved when you work together.”

Cath’s journey with Forest Fire Management Victoria started 7 years earlier when she applied to join the Corryong crew as a project firefighter at age 21.

“I was working in real estate at the time, and I learnt pretty quick that I hated being indoors,” she said.

“I knew a few people who were already on the crew, and we were all close mates, so I thought why not give it a go.”

After three seasons working as a project firefighter, Cath was offered a full-time role as a Field Operations Officer before more recently joining the district’s fuel management program.

“It was good to spend three seasons as a project firefighter and then progress into a full-time role.”

As a fuel management officer, Cath helps plan the delivery of the District’s planned burning program which reduces the risk of bushfires to Upper Murray communities, including her hometown.

“I really like the variation of my current role. I can get out in the field when I need to and have a look at a planned burn or respond to a fire.”

“And then I enjoy being part of a team which takes a bigger-picture view of how a little burn in Corryong can help reduce the risk of bushfires across the district.”

While Cath now spends more time in the office, she hasn’t lost her interest in emergency management and is an accredited crew leader and can do multiple roles in the incident management team.

“As a crew leader I love the leadership component of the role, making decisions and having a lot more responsibility, particularly for the people you are leading.”

Cath is the first to acknowledge that being a mum to two young children, Archie and now daughter Billie, while working in emergency management is a constant challenge.

“FFMVic supports me to work from home when I need to, and depending on the situation I can either work in the incident management team, or out in the field.”

“I don’t tend to go on long deployments which take me away from home anymore, but there’s a lot more flexibility to stay involved.”

The opportunity to live locally and help protect her community from the threat of future bushfires is at the core of Cath’s love for what she does.

“For me, being able to look after the forest and the community that has looked after me and my family for so long is pretty special.”

Are you interested in a career in forest firefighting and land management?

This is your chance to make a profound impact, protect our communities, and preserve the beauty of our natural landscapes.

Project Firefighter applications are open for 18 locations in Hume region; apply by 28 July.

For more information on the roles and responsibilities, and to join this fulfilling journey, please visit Firefighting and employment

Open to all, with designated positions available for Aboriginal applicants, affirming our commitment to diversity and inclusion.

Page last updated: 15/06/24