The Black Summer bushfires of 2019-20 devastated homes, outbuildings, infrastructure and wildlife in the Bega Valley Shire communities. One year on, many of the local residents are still picking up the pieces and trying to rebuild their lives. When Connecting Communities Australia visited in October 2020, we were able to provide support to the towns of Towamba, Wonboyn and Kiah. We assisted with building a community outdoor space, providing shade for the children’s playground, removing fencing to protect local wildlife and repairing and rebuilding nearly a dozen properties in the area.
Amidst the pandemic in 2020, we are relieved that we were able to bring our program to the community and give physical help to these people who have coped with losing nearly everything. They are strong and resilient and we hope we were able to lift their spirits.
Connecting Communities Australia’s program to Bega Valley in October 2020 has been featured on the National Bushfire Recovery Agency (NBRA) website as part of their series, ‘Recovery Stories’, from the aftermath of the 2019-20 bushfires.
The story came about after an interview from a journalist with our CEO, Glenn Price. Glenn shared details of the CCA Bega Valley program that took place in a number of small towns including Towamba, where volunteers worked hard to complete a community BBQ area, a basketball hoop and install a shade sail for the kids playground. Importantly, the story highlights the power of communities coming together to make a difference.
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The National Bushfire Recovery Agency (NBRA) was established by the Australian government in January 2020 to ‘lead and coordinate the Commonwealth-supported recovery and rebuild for the 2019-20 bushfires’. NBRA is coordinating the National Bushfire Recovery Fund to help bushfire affected communities.
Bushfires, floods, droughts, storms, and cyclones. When communities are in need of crisis support and recovery, charities are one of the first to roll up their sleeves.
But what happens when charities are in a crisis?
COVID-19 has impacted thousands of Australians but for rural and regional communities, where many have lost their homes and livelihoods from the devastating black summer fires, their road to recovery has been made even more difficult.
At a time when they’ve needed the help of others the most, they’ve been unable to receive it – COVID-19 halted plans and any efforts altogether.
By the end of February 2020, most of the bushfires were extinguished, leaving behind a trail of devastated towns and communities. Then came Australia’s declaration of a national pandemic before the World Health Organisation declared a global pandemic two weeks later. When we thought we were at the end of a long battle with mother nature and recovery processes could begin, we faced another massive hurdle.
So how has COVID-19 affected us and our community recovery programs? And what are the ramifications of the pandemic on our plans for 2021 and going into the future?
Our Community Recovery Programs
Prior to the pandemic, our vision for 2020 was a year where we could expand our programs, pursue further partnerships and increase our capability to support communities in need.
We had anticipated around 12 programs throughout 2020 focusing on Western New South Wales and Western Queensland including the areas of Cloncurry, Longreach, Barcaldine and Charleville. We had also planned our ‘Schools Walking Together’ program where rural and urban students can exchange their experiences of country and city life over two separate excursions, building social and cultural connections through sport and activities.
With the onset of COVID-19, all of these programs were either put on halt or cancelled due to travel restrictions and physical distancing requirements.
The good news is we were still able to deliver an important bushfire recovery program to the NSW south coast.
After discussions with The Black Dog Institute, HeadSpace and R U OK, we began preparations to head down to Bega Valley Shire. Working with Bega Valley Shire Council, Catholic Social Services Australia, Rotary and Lions, we planned our two-week October program to assist three communities: Wonboyn, Towamba and Kiah.
With over 45 volunteers from CCA and local community groups combined, we helped with:
Building a community meeting space for Towamba with an electric BBQ and aluminium seating.
Installing a shade sail to cover the kids playground and a basketball hoop.
Planting 200 new trees and plants along the Kiah riverbank.
Clearing old fencing to protect local wildlife.
Building, restoring and repairing eleven properties in total that were damaged by the bushfires.
COVID-19 case numbers had eased by October, however, social distancing requirements were still in force and this limited our end-of-program community events to a maximum of 100 people. Nevertheless, with the support of local organisations such as Rotary and Lions, we were able to hold small gatherings for community members and volunteers at Towamba and Wonboyn. These gatherings are an important opportunity for volunteers and locals to engage, connect and strengthen their spirits.
2021 and beyond
Our focus for 2021 and beyond is to commit our resources to bushfire support and resilience for rural and regional communities in NSW.
We want to maintain connections with existing communities and reach out to many more in the coming years and look forward to sharing our projects with all of you.
We’re also excited that our ‘Schools Walking Together’ program will be able to continue this year. This means exchanging valuable educational and cultural experiences for urban students and those living in rural NSW.
We will continue our support for drought affected communities in Queensland also, recommencing a program in Yaraka, a community south of Longreach in Western Queensland that is still suffering from a decade long drought.
2020 forced us to stop, rethink and reset our activities and plans, but that brought new opportunities. We are grateful to have the support of our volunteers, government and local organisations to give the Bega Valley community bushfire relief and look forward to more projects where we can help rebuild.
Connecting Communities Australia is currently 100% volunteer driven. Like all charities, we need the support of your donations to continue our important work.
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Connecting Communities Australia acknowledge the Traditional Custodians of the land on which we work and live, and recognise their continuing connection to land, water and community. We pay respect to Elders past, present and emerging.