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The women of the SES

By  AAMI

Inside every Her is a Hero, and the extraordinary women of the VICSES prove it every single day.

Lisa Keys and Anne Moreillon of SES South Barwon.

Each year, thousands of dedicated Victoria State Emergency Services (VICSES) volunteers help Australians when they’re at their most vulnerable. In the wake of floods, tropical cyclones, storms and other emergencies – whenever there is someone in need – their stunning displays of teamwork and courage sustain and support communities all over the country in times of crisis.

Many inspirational women number amongst the heroic VICSES volunteers. These women work together tirelessly to make their communities better places. It’s a passion and dedication that is admirable and for many families it’s passed on, with generation after generation often involved within the same unit.

Three generations of Cracknell women serve the Rutherglen SES.

A family affair

It’s this sense of working together as a family that lights up the women of the Cracknell family.

Irene Cracknell joined the Rutherglen SES back in 1981, and now holds the position of Deputy Controller. The Rutherglen Unit is made up of 70 per cent women in their leadership team.

For the Cracknells it’s a true family affair: Irene’s daughter, Jennie, joined alongside her in 1981, her granddaughter, Amy, is now part of the team as well as Irene’s sister. Plus Irene’s grandson, son-in-law and husband have all been part of the SES over the years. Talk about a shared family passion!

Being part of the SES has helped Irene develop a strong bond with the generations who are following her brave lead. “My granddaughter Amy calls me her best friend and role model – how good is that?!” Irene says her experience has given her skills, friendships, confidence, reliability, strength and resilience – all while giving back to the community.

Teamwork is key to success for the women of the SES.

Getting outside the comfort zone

This sentiment is shared by volunteer Jenni Bond, who joined the Port Phillip SES Unit as a single mum with three adolescent children.

Jenni says that being part of the SES has stopped her from settling into a comfort zone: "I think it’s got me into lots of situations that in a normal, middle-aged woman’s life you’d never get yourself involved with or do."

"I had lots on my plate, but I also decided I needed time for myself and that the SES was going to give me skills."

The support and friendship that Jenni found in the volunteer organisation has been a highlight for her. "Part of joining SES was to get some adult support from people that weren’t in my close-knit group. It’s been very worthwhile broadening a friendship group rather than just being centred around your children or colleagues at work."

At the time of joining, it suited Jenni to take part in call-outs, both during the day and night, while fitting in with her family. The volunteers of the SES work hard to respond to all sorts of situations, from storm and flood recovery to car accidents and rescues. With 32 per cent of VICSES volunteers being women, it’s definitely possible to create your own display of female teamwork.

But now it’s another part of the SES that’s more Jenni’s cup of tea. "These days I feel much more comfortable doing PR work, which might involve visiting schools or community groups or doing daytime events," she explains.

There are roles for everybody in the SES, regardless of different goals and lifestyles.

Choose your own adventure

With 51 per cent of SES units having a female Controller or Deputy Controller, lots of the women of the SES have fulfilled leadership ambitions, while others have simply found ways to get involved that suits each of their goals and lifestyles.

Options are aplenty in the SES and there’s no limit to when you can become a volunteer. "Anyone can join the SES from age 18 to 90," says retiree Joan Molyneux from the Port Phillip Unit. "There are roles for everybody."

Find out more about VICSES at: www.ses.vic.gov.au.