By Jess Baker
Local legend Roni Bau, a Granite Belt rural firefighter for more than 50 years, has received the highest honour in Australia for his outstanding service.
The 66-year-old was announced a recipient of an Order of Australia Medal in January 2021 and was presented the prestigious award last week, on Wednesday 5 May.
Roni said to be recognised for his service in such a way, after so many years, brought tears to his eyes.
“It sort of broke me up a little bit,” he said.
“To think after 50 years somebody would actually take the time to nominate me for this award … I was very emotional and really honoured.”
Roni received the medal for his service to emergency response organisations in a number of roles, including as group officer of the Stanthorpe Rural Fire Brigade and as rural firefighter, fire warden and deputy fire warden at Applethorpe, The Summit and Cottonvale.
The award was also for his service as brigade training officer, brigade chairman and fifth through to first officer of the Applethorpe Rural Fire Brigade.
Currently, Roni serves as warden for the Applethorpe area, warden for the north Granite Belt area and first officer of the Applethorpe Rural Fire Brigade.
His half-a-century commitment to the Rural Fire Service, and to his community, which began at age 16 reflects the generous spirit he is known for having.
Stanthorpe rural firefighter James Massey, who was awarded an Order of Australia Medal in 2020, said he nominated Roni for this very reason.
“He’s one of those men who have done a tremendous amount for the good of the district,” said James.
“He is a very generous, kind person.”
James said he and Roni met on the fire line in 1974, and have served the community together in many ways since.
“He actually nominated me (for the award) because I’d been a rural firefighter for 48 years,” James said.
As well as fighting fires together, James and Roni taught Certificate II firefighting training courses to local highschoolers for nearly a decade until Covid-19 hit last year.
Roni said it is important to acknowledge that the efforts of his fellow firefighters, his family and other emergency services have helped him reach the position he has today.
“The people who suffer the most, and they’re never nominated, is the family you leave at home when you get the triple zero call,” Roni said.
“They don’t know if you’re coming home, they don’t know when you’re coming home … these people are the unsung heroes.”
Roni said he feels extremely honoured and proud to have been awarded the Order of Australia Medal.
“It’ll be close to my heart and I’m sure it’ll be close to my family’s heart,” he said.
“I’d like to thank the community and everybody that was involved with me getting this great award.”