News that missing child Cleo Smith had been found alive spread through Carnarvon – and the rest of the world – like wildfire.
For SES Local Manager Elsa Alston, the discovery was a massive relief.
The local SES crew was among hundreds of personnel involved in the initial large-scale land search for the four-year-old at the Blowholes Campsite last October.
For an entire week in battering winds and unforgiving sun, crews trudged through harsh coastal scrub and sand dunes.
“Some of our members went up straight away on that morning when it was the public and the police on the ground desperately searching for her,” Elsa said as she reflected on the role of SES volunteers ahead of WOW Day (Wear Orange Wednesday) on Wednesday 18 May.
“The team jumped in and started a ‘land wheel’ - a circular search with police - and helped to cordon off the site.
“We were out there for the whole week, basically from the Saturday right through to the Thursday when they called off the land search.
“The team were out there every day doing foot slog through the dunes and the coastal cliffs as well.”
Elsa said the team was devastated when the search of the area was eventually called off.
“On the Thursday, when the search wound up, we all came together on the Friday to pack up different bits and pieces,” she said.
“We were just devastated. That was probably the worst bit, those two weeks where we didn’t know.
“When the news came in that she had been found, the group chat went ballistic.
“We all came together and went down to the unit and decorated it with a big ‘welcome home’ sign.
“We had to do something to vent our spontaneous relief.”
Elsa joined the Carnarvon SES from the Volunteer Fire and Rescue Service. She said in her three years as Local Manager the team had diversified.
“The unit originally had about seven or eight people, it was a bit quiet.
“We had to set about rebuilding and getting people through the door. The people who came through the door are the most diverse, energetic group of people I have ever come across.
“It just so happened, not by design, that about 70 per cent of us are female.
“We’ve got mental health workers, social workers, electrical engineers, people who own their own businesses, gardeners.
“It’s a diverse mix of people but it works – it’s a really inclusive, energetic group.”
Elsa said she was proud to head up the SES Unit in Carnarvon and to celebrate the contribution of the more than 2,000 SES members around the State.
“As a local manager it’s a huge reward to be able to encourage and grow the skills of other people,” she said.
“On another level, it’s important to be there when your community needs you, whether it be for a flood, search, or their children have gone missing.
“To be able to put your hand up, be productive and bear some assistance, I think that’s what it comes down to it’s why we join and why we do what we do.”
WOW Day is celebrated on Wednesday 18 May. You can wear orange on the day to show your support for SES volunteers.