At first, I was pretty nervous about meeting strangers, but the first guy we met was so relaxed. It was fine after that. We drove up his driveway and he just walked straight over and shook hands, welcomed us onto his property. He was happy to chat. He said he wasn’t too affected by the fires, just lost a few fences. But since then he has really improved his fire plan because a lot of his neighbours suffered major damage to their places. I think that’s a good thing to come out of the fires, that people will be better prepared
A lot of people have struggled to get themselves and the things around them back to ‘normal’. The fires were an abnormal event and the recovery process can take years, especially when there’s been such destruction to communities and so many deaths. Recovery doesn’t just refer to physical things like rebuilding houses or fixing fences, it’s also about mental recovery. The outreach volunteering I did is like mental health first-aid, it’s about checking that people are okay. If there are people with obvious signs of distress, then we link them up to local services and encourage them to get help. Some people were fine and didn’t need assistance. For a lot of people though, it gives them a chance to chat about how they’re feeling and this can be healing. Especially when there’s so much media hype when these events happen, and then other news takes over. I think people feel forgotten sometimes.
Outreach is good because it lets them see there are people who still care and that they’re not alone. I was worried some people might think I was just a ‘city slicker’ and that I had nothing to offer or nothing to say. But it’s mostly about being there. Sometimes I didn’t say anything, just listened. Nobody minded where I was from. Actually, I think that being an outsider helped people open up a bit. It shows you don’t have to be involved in the actual event to help out afterwards. I’d like to do it again. It opened my eyes up a lot. Nothing like that has ever happened to me. It was cool to see how strong people are, that after a tragedy they can find the strength to keep going. I would like to send my best wishes to the people affected by these fires, and I hope they have a safe and happy 2010.