Farming legends' true phoenix rising

KEVIN and Rhonda Butler’s dedication to supporting farming communities around the country, and their resilience during a crisis, makes them outstanding winners of the Kondinin Group and ABC Rural 2020-21 Farming Legend of the Year Award.
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Farming Legends of the Year Kevin and Rhonda Butler (centre) with WFI's Nicolla Eley and Kent Hannam.

Staff writer

This dynamic duo, who are sheep farmers from Kilmore East in Victoria, have demonstrated incredible fortitude, community spirit and a life-long passion and commitment to farming which has gained them significant respect including receiving the Medal of the Order of Australia in 2012.

They believe they are doing just what needs to be done… which is supporting their industry and ensuring those within it—their family, friends and growing ‘community'— can continue farming no matter what gets thrown their way.

Kevin and Rhonda's farm was impacted during February 2009 when the "Black Saturday" bushfires decimated rural Victoria, starting in Kilmore East and burning around 450,000ha of land throughout the state.

Once the fires were controlled, the need to protect the Butler's 1500 stock was paramount to the couple. Within a week, family, friends and local volunteers had rallied to rebuild three kilometres of the Butler's damaged fencing.

This event inspired Kevin, who became determined to pay forward the help and generosity he had received, and BlazeAid was established.

"Black Saturday, and the subsequent rebuilding of our community, was life changing for me," Kevin said.

"I've been a farmer all my life and I have seen our community come together over all sorts of things, and while I was thankful for their support after the bushfires, I knew we could do more to help others… and not just in our own area, but all over Australia."

BlazeAid brings together volunteers from around the country, and overseas, to support rural and regional communities affected by fire, flood or cyclone with fencing clean ups and rebuilds.

Since 2007, the BlazeAid team has removed 15,472 km of damaged fencing, rebuilt 15,208 km of fencing, engaged 32,950 volunteers and helped 10,982 properties. Together, the team has committed 333,632 volunteer days.

Ben White, General Manager of Research, Kondinin Group, said the generosity and ingenuity of Kevin and Rhonda is extraordinary.

"The Butlers embody a spirit of resilience and big-heartedness so unique to farming communities," Ben said.

Rhonda Butler is full of praise for her husband.

"Farming is everything to Kevin," she said.

"To know he can make a difference, to help people out when there is a crisis, it just spurs him on. Everyone who volunteers for BlazeAid can see how passionate Kevin is.
"We may do this as a team, but I am just so proud of him, what he has achieved and what we still have planned for the future."