'Overwhelming' return to Mallacoota to reflect and commemorate

Australian Army soldier, Sergeant Frank Parsons from the 15th Force Support Squadron returned to Mallacoota for Anzac Day 2021, 16 months after his deployment in support of Operation Bushfire Assist 19/20. Photo: supplied
Australian Army soldier, Sergeant Frank Parsons from the 15th Force Support Squadron returned to Mallacoota for Anzac Day 2021, 16 months after his deployment in support of Operation Bushfire Assist 19/20. Photo: supplied

This Anzac Day, many soldiers returned to the communities across Australia they served in during Operation Bushfire Assist 19/20.

One serviceman who jumped at the opportunity to revisit the north-east Victorian coastal town of Mallacoota was Sergeant Frank Parsons, petroleum operator turned driver specialist, of Doveton Victoria's 15 Force Support Squadron, 2nd Force Support Battalion.

Shared experiences with the community of Mallacoota during the Black Summer bushfire catastrophe had a deeply profound impact on Sgt Parsons, who was able to assist in delivering crucial logistics to the isolated town.

In the wake of the devastating bushfires, Sgt Parsons arrived on HMAS Choules to assist the town to maintain its essential infrastructure through the use of generators, spending a month providing fuel required to run generators to power sewers, communication, water supply systems and town power.

ON THE GROUND: Delivering crucial logistics to the isolated town of Mallacoota during Operation Bushfire Assist 19/20. Photo: supplied

ON THE GROUND: Delivering crucial logistics to the isolated town of Mallacoota during Operation Bushfire Assist 19/20. Photo: supplied

Sgt Parsons said it was a bit overwhelming to return to Mallacoota for Anzac Day this year, as it brought back memories of the intensity of the work undertaken in January 2020.

"There were also good memories from the time we were here, and although the loss of houses was very sad, there was no loss of life," he said.

"The main town infrastructure was still in place, which made my job a lot easier."

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This Anzac Day, the Australian Army reflected not only on the service from members in previous conflicts, but also on the unprecedented work on recent domestic operations.

For Sgt Parsons, returning to the community he served during those extraordinary times is a poignant and solemn reminder of the contributions and commitment of those before him.

Sgt Parsons was surprised at how quickly a lot of the new constructions have come along.

"It's amazing how things have progressed. The bush was as expected and will likely take a few years to stabilise and settle," he said.

"It was nice to see the town functioning the way it should. You realise you are in a popular holiday town that was a ghost town - to see it now is just magnificent."

Sergant Frank Parsons at the 2021 Mallacoota Anzac Day dawn service. Photo: supplied

Sergant Frank Parsons at the 2021 Mallacoota Anzac Day dawn service. Photo: supplied

Commander Forces Command, Major General Matt Pearse AM, said it was important for soldiers to reinforce the connections they have built in some of the worst fire-affected areas.

"We are taking this chance, as the COVID-19 restrictions ease, to get some of our soldiers back to the areas they were working in during the fires," he said.

"This is an opportunity to strengthen the Army's commitment and contribution to our community.

"Many of those communities have asked us to make a particular effort to get our people back to show their appreciation for the work they did there, so where we can that's what we are doing."

Delivering the Anzac Day speech at the Mallacoota RSL, Sgt Parsons reflected on the contribution made by all personnel past and present who've displayed courage, discipline and self-sacrifice in choosing a life of service.

Sgt Parsons plans to return to Mallacoota again to introduce his family to some of the people to whom he became close.

"It was a solid month under intensity. You don't normally make friendships like that, it was quite unique and very special," Sgt Parsons said.

He said seeing the town after all it has endured, his overall impression was very positive.

"Mallacoota looks like it has recovered brilliantly. People struggle in different ways, but overall as a community they've done well to pull through and get back on with it," he said.

"It takes years to properly psychologically recover from circumstances such as those.

"As Australians we are really great at helping people, but not so great at asking for help that's needed.

"Sometimes it's about trying to have that sixth sense to identify where people do need assistance," Sgt Parsons said.

Addressing the community at the Anzac Day service at Mallacoota RSL, Sgt Parsons offered his utmost respect to those affected by the bushfires, and his humble gratitude to the community for allowing the Army to assist them in their time of need.

This story 'Overwhelming' return to Mallacoota a chance to reflect and commemorate first appeared on Magnet.