FOREST Fire Management Victoria firefighter and Parks Victoria staff member, Bill Slade, played a key role in the eradication of Phillip Island’s foxes, we were told at his funeral last Wednesday, helping to protect the region’s famed Little Penguins.
It’s a part of Bill’s long list of achievements, during a lifetime of work with Parks Victoria, along the coast in summer and on the fire ground in summer, that would have had particular resonance with former Chief Executive Officer of Phillip Island Nature Parks Matthew Jackson.
Since February 2017, Mr Jackson has been CEO of Parks Victoria and he was one of the two senior officers to front the media after Mr Slade’s funeral last week.
Standing side-by-side with Forest Fire Management Victoria Chief Fire Officer Chris Hardman, he pledged there would be a lasting memorial to the service and sacrifice made by Mr Slade.
“We [are] honoured to be here today for Bill’s funeral today. On behalf of Parks Victoria and the broader community we acknowledge and pay tribute to Bill and also recognise the support of his family; Carol, Ethan and Steph. It’s obvious the connection Bill had with the extended community, with Parks staff and the firefighting community and just how important he was to them from the way they have turned up to support his family and each other today.”
It is estimated that more than 2000 people attended the funeral at the State Coal Mine.
Mr Jackson was asked if he had learned more about his organisation after the way they supported their workmate and colleague last week.
“Absolutely. We’ve just got to look at who has turned up here today from the community and how highly regarded he was. I was privileged to be able to present his long-service recognition only recently in November, and just to see the commitment he has shown, it’s not many times you get to see that level of service in a career that can go back to Black Saturday, the fires on Ash Wednesday, and the recent fires, it just shows the amazing level of service he has given not only to this community but to the whole of Victoria.”
Mr Jackson went on to say that while Parks regularly recognised the service of all its staff members, he believed there should be some special and lasting recognition of the contribution and sacrifice made by Bill Slade.
“We certainly need to recognise Bill’s service. How we do that, I will sit down with the Chief Fire Officer and with the staff, especially the Wonthaggi staff who have worked with Bill for so long and were part of the team. But certainly, we will be looking to recognise his service.”
Mr Jackson was asked about the key messages from the eulogies delivered by family members, work colleagues and friends at the funeral.
He repeated it was a privilege to hear the tributes about Bill’s commitment to his family, his contribution to fighting fires, his insights into the daily work of a Parks officer, giving back to the community, mentoring staff, and especially laying down training and safe work practices which would stand as a lasting legacy.
“He was an outstanding individual to be lost to the service and the community and again our condolences go to the family but, again, his legacy will live on. Parks Victoria is a better organisation for the work and commitment of Bill Slade.”
Forest Fire Management Victoria Chief Fire Officer, Chris Hardman, spoke of his personal and professional regard for Bill Slade.
“I knew Bill personally and it was a privilege to know and work with him. The term ‘hero’ is often bandied around in these circumstances, but I prefer to see Bill as the consummate professional. He kept people safe on the fire line, he made sure that young people knew what to look out for, he made sure that everyone who worked with him was safe. And this really challenging and dynamic environment is the thing that took Bill,” he said, noting later that he expected the inquiry into the circumstances of Bill’s death to show everything was done correctly.
“He was passionate about what he did, he loved what he did, and we loved what Bill did and his contribution will be with us forever. And we will honour him and recognise him on the Federal Memorial and on the State Memorial and I will work with Matt Jackson and Parks Victoria to see what we can do to recognise the service and sacrifice.
“For us as his colleagues it’s hard, it’s hard for his family but I do know how hard it is for his workmates as well.
“These are close-knit people. They are passionate about what they do. They do this, not for money, they do this because they care, they care about the environment, they care about the community, the community of South Gippsland, around Wonthaggi, and the broader area of the state and Bill was out there for 40 years involved in this work.”