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.
Can’t make a donation right now? You can help in other ways!
Saturday 5th September is International Day of Charity and it’s a day about celebrating all the great work that charities and nonprofits do for communities around the country and around the globe.
The world would look like a very different place without all the support of charities and nonprofits, and importantly, the people that commit their money, time and energy to assist. In Australia, charities and nonprofits harness the skills of around 3.7 million volunteers and provide employment to over a million people. With limited resources, non-profits usually run operations with tighter budgets and more constraints. They rely mainly on donations, grants and sponsorship and play an important role, responding to the needs of the community that aren’t addressed by mainstream services or systems.
Here at Connecting Communities Australia, our aim is to deliver needs-based support programs for rural, remote and Indigenous communities by providing professional field service teams, including volunteers, to repair and maintain essentials to rural communities.
Our programs aim to support community wellbeing, whilst delivering sustainable respite from the changing climate.
With the devastating bushfires that occurred in 2019 and 2020, so many people living in rural areas have been affected. Many have lost their livelihoods, their homes and some have even lost their loved ones. These communities have seen vital services and infrastructure destroyed with basic needs like water and sanitation facilities interrupted.
Connecting Communities Australia has visited a number of towns in rural Queensland and New South Wales, including Julia Creek, Kingaroy, Cloncurry, Nymagee, Goodooga and Bega Valley.
We spend time identifying the needs of farmers and the community, source skilled volunteers and partner with organisations to deliver programs that help rebuild, repair and reconnect the community.
We have seen firsthand the positive impact of rural assistance, not only in the jobs that get done but also the conversations and connections that importantly support mental wellbeing in the bush. Creating these opportunities to socialise and come together for a common cause is wonderful relief for farmers and members of the community.
Connecting Communities Australia would like to extend a big thank you to the donors, volunteers and everyone who has helped us, help them. We celebrate International Day of Charity with all of you!
Last week I travelled to the Bega Valley Shire to prepare for Connecting Communities Australia Bushfire Recovery Program. I was astonished by the beauty and yet conversely the terrible destruction from the fires in January. Whole swathes of countryside have been destroyed with tree’s burned right up to their crown. What was really disturbing was the silence of the bush with little indication of surviving wildlife. The Border’s fire swept through the hills with such ferocity that little in its path could survive.
On the first day we met with the Bega Valley Shire Council to discuss our program and how best we could help the community. We discussed the loss of assets including community halls, sheds and toilets that were destroyed. Land holders that had lost stock, out buildings and fences during the fires. With mixed incomes many of these people have missed out on the government grants that have been made available.
We travelled to Cobargo to view the damage done to that town. The fire cut a path through the centre of town yet left buildings to the north and south. Blocks have been cleared however there is no sign of any rebuilding as yet. We then visited Murrah to inspect their community hall which avoided the fire however is in need of restoration work.
The following day we travelled with Liz Scott from Head Space who took us to number of small communities to the south of Eden that had had significant damage during the fires. Places like Kiah and Wolumla. At Wolumla we met the BlazeAid team and were hugely impressed by their work. There was a team of 30 travellers centred there doing fencing for the local farmers. It is Connecting Communities Australia’s hope that we can compliment the work of BlazeAid.
We plan to base a team of up to 30 skilled volunteers in this area for two weeks to assist with fencing, repairs to outbuildings, painting and the laying of AG piping. We will hold a community event at the end of the project to celebrate our time together.
While things have been very difficult for these communities I’m so impressed by their resilience and determination to recover and move forward. Our plan is to bring our volunteer team to the Bega Valley Shire in late September and early October.
A very rewarding day in the Cloncurry district. We travelled to four farms where our volunteers have been working all week. While the jobs they do are important, over and over again farmers say it’s the conversation, the companionship and friendships developed that have the most impact. A very important weapon in the battle for mental well being in the bush. As one farmer said to me, “I wouldn’t care if they sat on their backside all day as long as they talked to me”.
Connecting Communities Australia and the RACQ Foundation always try to buy everything locally including food, materials, fuel and of course accommodation. With the grazers suffering, so are towns like Cloncurry.
Over the last 3 days I’ve been driving back from Cloncurry to Brisbane. Visiting farmers and talking to Councils in Longreach, Barcaldine and Charleville planning for Connecting Communities Australia Program in 2020. I’ve reflected on the amazing resilient farmers I’ve met and worked with and the communities with businesses closing and running out of water. The nation needs to work as one to stand with these people find solutions and look to the future. If you would like to support CCA’s drought resilience program please go to https://lnkd.in/gExjJum There are great opportunities for business and individuals to support farmers and communities in the bush.
I’ve just completed a truly enlightening trip to Western NSW. A four hour delay out of Sydney airport was a forerunner to weather conditions across Western NSW as strong winds reduced Sydney Airport’s capacity to one runway. I was travelling to Dubbo to attend the the Western Support Network Meeting. The group consists of government and non-government rural support agencies discussing issues and ongoing programs assisting communities and farmers in Western NSW through the drought. It was a great opportunity to share Connecting Community Australia’s programs to support rural and remote communities.
afternoon I travelled with James Cleaver from the DPI out through Nyngan
towards Girilambone. Strong westerly winds were driving a dust storm across the
region. These conditions were really
concerning forerunner to summer. That night we stayed with a farming family
discussing the drought and the measures farmers are taking to manage the
situation. Like everyone they have real concerns if there aren’t any summer
really inspiring as we visited the Gilargambone and Marra Public Schools. Marra
holds the honour of being the most isolated school in NSW. I shared with them
CCA’s volunteer program to assist these schools. It includes improved
facilities, painting, gardening and the building of a bike pump track for the
kids. The program ends with an event involving the whole community.
The staff at
these schools are truly inspirational and innovative in providing excellent
learning environments for their children. CCA is now seeking funding to run
For six years of drought in North West Queensland, farmers struggled to keep their livestock alive, worked to make ends meet and prayed for rain. Then it flooded.
The scale of devastation in North West Queensland has been described as an “inland tsunami”. It’s estimated that there are approximately 1.5 million cattle in the region, it’s estimated 500,000 perished in the unprecedent flood.
Connecting Communities Australia (CCA) partnered with RACQ to send 20 volunteers to Julia Creek to work on 12 properties for a week. This team did the following:
Repair machinery such as four wheel drives, quads and motorbikes that enable community organisations to operate
Assist with fencing, painting, gardening and cleaning of club/recreational facilities
Provide financial planning advice and assistance
The project provided much needed practical, on the ground support and assistance to graziers as they begin rebuilding and look to the future.
Having worked together on two other projects this year CCA and the RACQ Foundation are well placed to assist, including tangible operational support, as well as emotional support to flood affected communities.
Across the course of a week we travelled a 1000kms through Mudgee, Lightning Ridge, Goodooga and Coonabarabran. It was an opportunity to visit farms and Aboriginal communities. The overwhelming feeling is a group of highly skilled and resourceful people battling against all the odds to survive. On the two properties we visited near Lightning Ridge the cattle and sheep were being kept alive on a combination of cottonseed and hay from Victoria. There is no ground water left in the dams with bore water keeping the animals alive. For those farmers who grow crops its now been two seasons since the last successful harvest. The drought stretches to the NSW coast with towns like Coonabarabran running out of water and Dunedoo and Coolah having lived through the Sir Ivan fires now facing severe drought. What most impressed me was the resilience of farmers, how most of them had prepared for drought and how they are managing the current situation. What they do need is relief from all levels of government including rates, freight costs and bank charges. I’m looking for businesses wanting to help by providing volunteers through CSR programs to help these communities. Many of the farms have excellent accommodation in shearer’s quarters for leadership retreats or team building exercises. There is also a great opportunity to help the children of Goodooga by providing much needed resources for the community.
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.