Air Force C-27J Spartans are flying residents of Mallacoota back to their community after evacuations early this year.
Residents Maureen and Don Jewell were hosting their granddaughters over the Christmas break when bushfire descended upon their town, cutting access.
“Eleven-year-old Abi and 7-year-old Skye arrived for a holiday with us on Boxing Day. We were all having a lovely time together until the morning of the bushfire on New Year’s Eve,” Mrs Jewell said.
“The sky went black and then red and we knew it wasn’t going to be good."
When Mrs Jewell was offered evacuation by sea on HMAS Choules, she took the opportunity to get her granddaughters back to their worried parents.
“My daughter and son-in-law were back in Melbourne and frantic with worry as they watched TV coverage of Mallacoota residents huddled on the beach to escape the fire," she said.
“We had mobile reception so were able to reassure them every hour or so that we were all fine.”
Mrs Jewell and the girls boarded Choules on January 3 along with more than 1000 other evacuees.
“The Navy personnel were all so kind and professional and we felt very grateful to be on board,” Mrs Jewell said.
While the fires devastated the community, Mrs Jewell’s grandchildren were shielded from much of the fear – spending some of their time making a photobook framing their experience as an adventure.
After 17 days in Melbourne with family and friends, No. 35 Squadron flew Mrs Jewell back to Mallacoota to be reunited with her husband.
The C-27J Spartans flown by Air Force’s 35 Squadron have been particularly busy throughout Victoria during Operation Bushfire Assist, with more than 153 flights moving 152,103 pounds of cargo, 1305 passengers, 27 dogs, five cats and 20 koalas.