A national LGBTQI+ storytelling project curated by Maeve Marsden
featuring a book, event series and an award-winning podcast

A national LGBTQI+ storytelling project curated by Maeve Marsden
featuring a book, event series and award-winning podcast

327 Erin Heine – Frocks

Amidst an earthquake, Erin is caught looting frocks.

Erin ‘Bullet’ Heine is the Program Manager LGBTIQ+ at Sydney Local Health District. Originally from New Zealand, of Māori and European heritage, they are passionate about improving the health and wellbeing of LGBTIQ+ community. They won the Out Role Model at this year’s ACON Pride and Health in Wellbeing awards and completed the NSW health management traineeship program (2012-2013) including a Masters of Health Science, Health Service Management. Erin has an acquired brain injury and ADHD.


Maeve: Hi, I’m Maeve Marsden and you’re listening to Queerstories. This week Erin ‘Bullet’ Heine is the manager of Diversity & Inclusion at Central Coast Local Health District. Originally from New Zealand, of Māori and European heritage, they won the Out Role Model at the 2022 ACON Pride and Health in Wellbeing awards. Erin enjoys F45, hanging with their greyhounds, the beach, reading and writing poetry, listening to vinyl and cooking.

Erin: In 2009, when I was 29 I moved to New Brighton, Christchurch, a lovely seaside suburb. The street I lived in was one back from the New Brighton Volunteer Fire station and after hearing the siren and watching the Brigade turn out, it wasn’t long before I signed up. When the siren would go off, if I was close by, I would sprint to the station. My speed earned me the nickname ‘Bullet’, from my buddy Phil, one of the senior firefighters at the station.

In March 2010 I attended my 7 day recruit course where you learn to put out fires and wear breathing apparatus and all things firefighting. It was there that I met Angela or Ang, who was from another volunteer Brigade, Sumner, not far from ours. Ang and I became good friends after my contribution to the icebreaker introduction exercise on the first day of the course.  An instructor in his 60’s named Garry Luff or ‘Luffy’, asked us all to introduce ourselves, say our brigade and something we had done that nobody else might have, something that makes us stand out. 

So Phil, my buddy I mentioned earlier, liked a laugh, usually from something that was a bit dodgy, and he encouraged me to introduce myself in a rather unique way. I stood up and said, “I’m Bullet from New Brighton and apparently I have had more women than Luffy.” 

The recruits all burst out laughing. After that Ang and I were firm friends and buddied up for the rest of the course. Ang and I were quite the contrast though, Ang being gorgeous, super femme, blonde, blue eyes with all the confidence still retained from her days modelling when she was younger. Ang got a lot of attention from all the firies, and men in general, which she loved.  And I well, short, brunette, brown eyes, short hair and very butch, and, well not keen at all on the lads, as you can imagine.

Fast forward now to the 22nd February 2011, 12:51pm. I had not long gotten home from Uni when we had one of the most devastating earthquakes in Christchurch’s history, with 185 deaths as a result of the earthquake, and 6,659 major injuries (in the first 24 hours after). While we had had decent quakes before that, I could tell from the intensity of this one that it was bad. I jumped on my push bike to go straight to the station. On the way I passed stunned looking people next to brick sheds and houses that had collapsed. At the station I quickly kitted up with my helmet and full firefighting kit, I was on the truck within 5 minutes of the quake. 

The truck left the station with Phil, our Deputy Chief Alan and Station Officer Dave. There was a lot of radio traffic and from the K codes that we used to communicate, I could hear how bad things were and that lives had been lost. We drove around our area to check if anyone needed urgent help, but everyone in our vicinity was pretty lucky and didn’t need our assistance or had lucky escapes. Our local fish and chip shop owner had jumped under the bench before the shop roof collapsed. The local South Brighton Bar, aptly named the Casbah, had indeed been rocked, with some of it caving in, but somehow only one person with a minor cut. 

I spent the next 2 weeks sleeping on the floor at the station and responding to calls with other brigade members. Sink holes opened from liquefaction, and cars were getting bogged into these on the roads. There were roofs to fix and chimneys to remove to stop them falling through, plus we were still feeling the aftershocks. 

But this story isn’t going to focus on the tough stuff, it’s about something rather different. It is about dresses, or as Ang would call them ‘frocks’. 

As a day job, Ang was the Manager of the Annah Stretton Christchurch store, a high end frock store prices ranging from $190 to $560 just for off the rack items. This store was on High Street, right in the middle of the Christchurch CBD, which was deemed as a ‘red zone’ area after the quake. 

Around 3 weeks had passed since the quake when Ang messaged me to say, “Bullet, I’m coming to collect you tomorrow morning, have your fire service overalls on, bring your helmet and your fire service ID.” 

The next day Ang pulled up in a car with the Sumner Deputy Chief’s Wife, Gill driving and told me to get in. Ang proceeded to casually explain her plan for the morning. We were going to recover some ‘frocks’ from the store inside the red zone cordon.  She mentioned that there were some customers who desperately needed wedding dresses, as well as other reasons for this needing to be urgently done.

With a name like ‘Bullet’, despite the ADHD and brain injury, one would think I would be quite open to random activities like this….quite the contrary actually.  I am a strict rule follower and have never been in trouble with the police for anything. I even used to dob my sisters in to my Mum when they shoplifted …I know pretty sad really.  

I told Ang that I really did not think this was a good idea, that she knows no one is allowed in the cordon. All business owners had been advised they could be arrested for looting. Ang told me to calm down, she had talked to Mark and Liam, who worked at the local council and they said, get in and out, wear your protective gear and if you get stopped just say you checked with your engineer and the council and they said it was fine.  

The red zone cordon had a 24 hour army guard in place, we stopped to show a young army officer our ID, and were quickly waved through. It didn’t take us long to get to the intersection where Gill our getaway driver would wait in the car. It was a quick but surreal walk to the shop entrance, passing fallen down facades of buildings, café tables left toppled with remnants of lunch from the event some 3 weeks prior. All building fronts had spray painted markings from when the urban search and rescue teams had been through doing building checks for people.  Stickers had been put doors of buildings coded green for safe, orange for caution and red do not enter at all. Red stickers were for structures that were high risk of collapsing.  There were no green stickers in this area.

Ang went straight to the shop door, saw the orange sticker, unlocked it in and went in. In really no time at all we managed to fill a few rolling racks with frocks. These were loaded into the car, and I had to share the backseat with them on the way back. As we were leaving I thought well that actually was fine, why was I even worried. That was when Ang stated matter of factly that she had plans for us to return for another recovery mission the next day. I voiced my concerns to Ang that surely we were pushing our luck, but she just said, “Bullet, don’t be such a pussy”. Her words not mine!

The next day rolled around and Ang and I were inside the store again, with our trusty driver, Gill in the car. I was loading up frocks when I look towards the shop front window and see a very stern looking Policeman striding past the shop towards the car. I yelled out – “oh shit oh shit we are in so much trouble Ang, there’s a cop”. Ang came from out the back, and I proceeded to freak out and tell here we were going to get kicked out of the fire service, and possibly get arrested for looting. Ang, calm and focused, started to walk out the door towards the officer, joined at this stage by another one near the car. She quietly said “Bullet keep your mouth shut, I will do the talking”.

The police officer asked why we there, and proceeded to give us a telling off. He asked for our names and details, recording them in his notebook.  That is when Ang turned on the charm offensive. She took her helmet off, shook out her hair and started flirting with both of the police officers. Ang explained that she was the manager of the store, showed her credentials and told them her engineer had said it was fine as long as we wore protective gear. She also told them that the council had approved her to enter when she called them and they knew we were there. Not entirely bullshit given Liam and Mark worked for the council, but I think we can agree that was really stretching the truth. 

Honestly I don’t know how she did it, but she managed to get us out of it. The officer advised us to pack up the frocks quickly, lock up the store and to not make another trip. All the way home I was freaking out, and for the next few weeks I was half expecting to get hauled into my Fire Chief’s office, or for the police to pay me a visit, but nothing came of it. Ridiculously it was only 2 weeks later all store owners were allowed to enter through a special arrangements, so Ang probably could have waited.

I left Christchurch not long after this in April of 2011 to move to Sydney. While it was a very traumatic experience to go through for many people, including myself, I’m proud of serving my community during that time. I was very fortunate to come across the NSW Health management traineeship which I applied for and was accepted into.  I completed that over 2012-2013 and that has put me on the path I am today. So while I have retired Bullet from New Brighton I still answer to that name when I go back and pop in to see Ang at the new Annah Stretton store, which she still manages. I can tell you though I can’t help but laugh every time I see the frocks, thinking about the time that they nearly got me arrested for looting after the earthquakes.

Maeve: Thanks for listening. Don’t forget to check out Queerstories on Patreon where you can support the project for as little as $1 per month. Follow Queerstories on Facebook for news and event updates and follow me, Maeve Marsden on Twitter and Instagram.

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Queerstories is produced by Maeve Marsden and recorded by wonderful technicians at events around the country. Editors and support crew have included Beth McMullen, Bryce Halliday, Ali Graham and Nikki Stevens.