At 6am on February 20, sappers from the 2nd Combat Engineer Regiment checked their axes and chainsaws, ready to start work clearing decimated trees along a fire-damaged trail in the Snowy Mountain region of Victoria – a region famous for its depiction in the classic Banjo Patterson poem The Man from Snowy River.

The sappers worked on preparing Harrington’s Track, a four-day horseback ride known as ‘Riley’s Ride’, named after Jack Riley from the poem. At the end of this ride, during the first days of April each year, the town of Corryong and the surrounding region celebrates The Man from Snowy River Bush Festival.

The ride attracts hundreds of horseback participants and thousands of people camping out to celebrate the region’s culture of horseback cattle droving and breaking.

Unfortunately, the locals in the region suffered catastrophic losses during the 2019-20 bushfires, threatening this year’s festival.

The 7th Combat Engineer Squadron, deployed in January from Brisbane to Corryong, provided much-needed support to the local community in clearing roads, repairing fences and supporting recovery and donation centres.

“I knew then that once we had conducted the immediate relief and response tasks, I would look at how we could support the restoration of Riley’s Ride and contribute to the economic recovery of the region after the devastating bushfires.”

As the region transitioned to recovery, the only remaining task was to support the local council in ensuring that the festival would continue.

Lieutenant Colonel Colin Lingo, commander of Task Group 646.7, part of Operation Bushfire Assist, noted the significance of the Man from Snowy River Bush Festival to the local community.

“One of the first things a local police officer discussed with me when we arrived was the importance of this festival, both as a cultural activity and as an economic boost bringing 150,000 visitors to the region over its duration,” Lieutenant Colonel Lingo said.

“I knew then that once we had conducted the immediate relief and response tasks, I would look at how we could support the restoration of Riley’s Ride and contribute to the economic recovery of the region after the devastating bushfires.”

The 13th Combat Engineer Troop, commanded by Lieutenant Joshua Paynter, deployed from the Corryong staging area to Tom Groggin cattle station to fell and remove dangerous trees along Harrington’s Track in support of Forest Fires Management Victoria.

Sappers carried chainsaws, axes and stores several kilometres at a time to clear the way, ensuring the Riley’s Ride event can go ahead safely in the coming months.  

The support provided by the 13th Combat Engineer Troop has ensured the ongoing success of Riley’s Ride. The task was also significant in that the engineers worked in an area deeply embedded into Australian culture, yet rarely sees an ADF presence.