From Treasury to Firie

As fire engulfed the houses on their left and right, Gavin Ewer and his family ran.


Fled through the smoky haze up the battle-axe driveway of his parents-in-law’s house, not knowing if the house would still be there when they returned.

That was January 1994, when bushfires ravaged Sydney’s Sutherland Shire. Gavin’s parents-in-law were lucky – while nearly every house on the street burned, theirs was somehow spared.

But the memories haunted Gavin and his family for years – lasting long after the houses that burned down had been repaired and replaced. He’ll never forget that day. It is still a painful memory, 25 years later.

“The last image I have of that time is running up the driveway and the houses on both sides were on fire,” Gavin said. 

“The house at the front of my parents-in-law’s block was on fire and the fire was coming up towards their house. We didn’t know until the next morning that the house was still standing. 

“It took me a good 10, 15 years before I could actually watch footage of the fires or read about it without starting to choke up. I personally didn’t lose anything and my family didn’t  lose anything. But just the impact it had around the neighbourhood, and watching friends go through it… it was pretty hard.”

The memories are hard to escape. But they also inspired Gavin to join his local Rural Fire Service (RFS) brigade in Loftus in southern Sydney six years ago.

“Having been through ’94, I always thought I wanted to do something to support the community,” Gavin continued.

“I have a background in the Army Reserve and I really enjoyed that sort of camaraderie and team environment. Loftus are a really good crew, and it’s really got that camaraderie that we used to have in the

Army back in the day. What I really enjoy is they’re people from all different walks of life – a lot of white-collar people, tradies and a lot of emergency services staff.” 

As some of the worst bushfires in Australia’s history raged throughout November and December this year, Gavin balanced his work at Downer as Treasury Risk Manager at our North Ryde office with stints joining his Loftus brigade battling fires.

“(The RFS) is on a fully volunteer basis, so I make myself available any time I’m not at the office – which is from around 7pm until 6am, on weekends and when I’m on leave,” Gavin said.

“Downer’s been really good – there have been times during the recent catastrophic fire event when I was lucky to be able to work from home, or work from the station. I could sit in the station and do the work that needed to be done, and by around 11am I could say, ‘I am not contactable now, because I am out (fighting bushfires)’.

“There’s also been times when I have received a call in the middle of the night (from the RFS). Generally, when you are at an active fire like that, you’re looking at a minimum 12-hour shift, so I’m not going to make it back to work the following day. In these cases, Downer has been great in allowing me to take time off.”

The recent bushfires have been relentless. But so has the determination and commitment of Gavin and many other Downer employees who have helped fight the fires. 

At Downer, we’re committed to actively supporting the communities we are part of, so we’re extremely proud of all our people who have taken time out – either taking Annual Leave, or being on-call outside working hours – to protect their communities.