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Supporting people through times of disaster

The Kempsey showgrounds were a temporary home for hundreds during the unprecedented November bushfires that raged across New South Wales and Queensland. More people arrived every day, making the decision to leave their homes after being told that there weren’t enough people and resources to get them out if they became trapped.

It’s a stressful time, but there’s also a growing sense of community at the showgrounds. Everyone understands that they’re in it together, with people living in tents, campers and sleeping in their cars. Some even slept on a mattress under the stars, which couldn’t be seen through the smoke.

Amongst all of this, the friendly faces of Red Cross volunteers are a calm and comforting presence for the evacuees, and a sign that someone is looking out for them. One of those volunteers is Tracy, a Red Cross volunteer for the last 8 years.

The reason why I’m a Red Cross volunteer is the empathy we can show people and that we really do care about them and their mental health, their family, making sure that they are in a safe place.


Tracy has a full-time office job, which she took time off from to help support those affected by the bushfires. Before arriving at the Kempsey evacuation centre, she was at the Laurieton evacuation centre, where 1200 people were sheltering from the fires. Then she was called to the Taree centre where around 300 people had slept the night before she arrived. 

“There were a lot of people who had lost everything. There were people who had self-evacuated and people feeling guilty about leaving their property behind. We had to work with departments to find them emergency accommodation,” she says.

At Kempsey it’s a similar situation.

“There are a lot of people here realising what has happened, the enormity of the situation, and a lot of people are coming to get some assistance. They’ve lost fences, they’ve got animals that have no feed and things like that.”

Tracy is just one of many volunteers there to greet people as they arrive at the centre. They help register people, contact loved ones, provide information and advice, link people to specialist services, and are there to be a listening ear. They’re also trained in psychological first aid. Research has found that the earlier people can have this type of support at the time of a trauma, the better their recovery will be.

We go all in when disaster strikes, turning the generosity of the Australian community into effective support for the people who have experienced trauma and loss. Donate to Red Cross Calling this March and help us continue this work.