Comparisons between bushfire disasters are odious, but by any measure, the Cudlee Creek bushfire of 2019/20 was an unmitigated tragedy, claiming one life and destroying 72 homes.
Efforts to restore a sense of community in the region were hampered by COVID-19, but now one initiative is set to come to fruition, thanks in part to a $25,000 grant from the News Corp Bushfire Fund.
A committed group of residents from Mount Torrens plans to build an innovative community space within the Dunnfield Estate, incorporating gardens, a meditation area, and – coolest of all – a ‘Ninja Warrior’ style obstacle course.
“We’ve had a gift of land from someone in the community, and we’re wanting to use the grant to develop a green space that’s really very inviting for people from a very diverse range of backgrounds,” Sascha Ferguson from the Dunfield Committee told The Advertiser.
The double whammy of bushfire and pandemic had prompted a lot of local discussion about ways to increase people’s connection to their community, Ms Ferguson said.
“It’s made us aware that we need strong community places where lots of people feel at home, not just those involved in the local sports teams or drinking at the local pub; (people) who might normally miss out on those sorts of connections.
“Should something like this happen again, we’ll have less people on the fringes and less people missing out on the recovery efforts,” Ms Ferguson said.
NSW: HELPING THE HELPERS
BlazeAid volunteers will get wide-brimmed protection while they’re helping Aussie farmers get back on their feet, thanks to a funding boost from the News Corp Bushfire Fund.
A $15,000 grant to the Melanoma and Skin Cancer Advocacy Network (MSCAN) will enable the volunteers to be kitted out in sun-safe hats while they undertake their critical work mending farm fences in the wake of bushfires.
BlazeAid’s efforts are currently focused on Cobargo, the little south coast dairy farming community badly affected by the Black Summer bushfires, although the grant will assist volunteers across the country.
MSCAN founder and director Tamara Dawson said they were thrilled to be able to keep BlazeAid workers “sun safe and skin serious”.
“This is Australia’s national cancer,” Ms Dawson said.
“Two in three Australians will be diagnosed with skin cancer by the age of 70. It’s particular important for outdoor workers, and globally we know that rural and agricultural populations are known to have a higher risk of skin cancer due to the nature of their work. So from MSCAN’s perspective, we want to be helping the helpers,” she said.
VICTORIA: LIGHTING UP THE BLACK SPOTS
When fires tore through bushland in the Thowgla region in northern Victoria in the horrific summer of 2019/20, the area’s lack of mobile reception went from being inconvenient to potentially life-threatening.
While there have been some efforts to improve reception since, the purchase of UHF radios through a grant from the News Corp Bushfire Fund could make all the difference when the community is next threatened by bushfire.
The $23,095 grant will also be used to purchase firefighting equipment so local residents can respond to blazes before help arrives.
David Braniff from the Thowgla Community Recovery Committee said the Black Summer bushfires had been a frightening experience, with several locals losing their homes.
“The whole event shone a light on mobile phone coverage in the district. There’s a lot of black spots and for 20 or so residents of Upper Thowgla, they’ve got bad communication all the time,” he said.
Mr Braniff said the community had worked hard to get back to life as normal since the bushfires, but for some residents, the impacts of the inferno lasted long after the flames were put out.
“The fires burned everything, even the undergrowth, and really that was what was holding the soil together,” he said. “So erosion, rockslides and mudslides after rain events, have been worse for some people than the bushfires themselves. The bushland is quite steep and gravelly and it had no cover after the fires. After any rain event, all the waterways and gullies got inundated with rock and soil erosion.”
QUEENSLAND: TWO WELCOME GIFTS
The Granite Belt community of Stanthorpe got two welcome presents last week.
First was a $25,000 grant for its annual Art and Craft Trail from the News Corp Bushfire Fund, and second was a heavenly downpour: 200 millilitres of sweet rain, in 48 hours.
“We went from zero water in our local dam to it running over the spillway,” said Art and Craft Trail co-ordinator Rosy Chapman.
“I can’t tell you what that’s done for the spirit of the community. We actually have our own town water supply probably for the next two years.”
For a community struggling with bushfires, drought, COVID-19 and an economic slump, and trucking in its drinking water for15 months, the rains were a much-needed boost.
“It looks green and beautiful and people are smiling,” Ms Chapman said. “No one can get enough of the sight of that water right now. We’ve been through some pretty hard yards together as a community and it’s really lifted everyone’s spirits to see it does actually still rain sometimes.”
Ms Chapman described Stanthorpe as “the sort of community that will get up and help itself”.
Its Art and Craft Trail is an example of that spirit. Conceived in 2019 in the wake of two bushfires and a continued economic slump, last year’s event gave the local economy an economic boost of over $800,000.
“They came with their hearts and pockets open,” Ms Chapman said.
There are strong hopes this year’s event – scheduled to run from October 29-31 – will do even better.
These are just four of the 12 projects awarded money across Australia in the latest round of the News Corp Bushfire Fund, organised in conjunction with the Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR).
A total of $279,940 in grants was awarded in this round, with $1,399,765 distributed through the fund to date.
“It’s wonderful to partner with an organisation like News Corp Australia, who have committed support to these fire affected communities over the last year,” FRRR CEO Natalie Eleton said. “(This) has allowed us to be flexible and respond as different needs emerge and the recovery journey evolves.”
News Corp Australia’s community ambassador Penny Fowler said the strength of the fire-affected communities was truly inspiring.
“Many of the communities supported with this funding have felt the effect of multiple natural disasters over the last few years – whether drought, flood or fires – yet they continue to move forward. The importance of having well-equipped community facilities that enable people to come together to support one another, or to get back to some semblance of ‘normal’ came through really strongly this round,” Ms Fowler said.
For more details see www.frrr.org.au.