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National Reconciliation Week | Bushfire response | Communities – dynamic people supporting each other

22 May 2020

National Reconciliation Week – In this together

Hi everyone,

Next week marks National Reconciliation Week. It’s a time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures and achievements, and to contribute to building a reconciled Australia.

The theme this year – In this together resonates even more given the times we’re in. It reminds us whether in a crisis or in reconciliation we are all in this together.

Last year, I committed to learning some Indigenous language. Given my love for singing, I combined the two and learnt the song Wiyathul by Dr G Yunupingu. It is always one of those songs which takes me to a place of quiet reflection (after the singing stops!). This year, in preparation for the National Acknowledgement, I plan to take a walk at my local park and learn more about the history of the land I’m on. You can also participate in events organised by Reconciliation Australia such as the 2000 Bridge Walk Panel Discussion. Spend some time to reflect on the role that we play when it comes to reconciliation. In playing our part we collectively build relationships and communities that value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories, cultures, and futures.

New bushfire grant

You may have seen in the media over the week on our latest re-establishment grant to help people who lost their primary place of residence in the bushfires to have somewhere safe to live in the medium-to-long term.

I was on Sunrise (2:35 onwards) on Monday which also features grant recipient Brooke Boulten and Noel Clement (Director, Australian Programs) was interviewed on ABC Radio National talking about our bushfire recovery response and the re-establishment grant.

Formerly called the rebuild grant, it is now also open to people who were renting homes that were destroyed, and people who were living in non-permanent structures such as caravans, or mobile homes that were destroyed in the fires.

A total of $79 million has been allocated to re-establishment grants.

  • $30,000 is available for home owner occupiers who lost their primary place of residence in the fires (this is on top of the $20,000 available to those eligible for the Emergency Grant)
  • $10,000 is available to home owner occupiers who have already received the $20,000 rebuild grant (this is on top of the $20,000 available to those eligible for the Emergency Grant)
  • $10,000 is available for people who were renting a home, or whose primary place of residence was a caravan or mobile home lost in the fires (this is on top of the $20,000 available to those eligible for the Emergency Grant).

Anyone who lost a primary place of residence (owned or rented, home, caravan or mobile home) in the bushfires since July 2019 is also eligible for an emergency grant of $20,000 if they haven't already received this (making the total value of grants paid per individual up to $50,000).

We have already provided grants to help people in the short term: an emergency grant for those whose homes were destroyed; a repair grant for home owner occupiers; an injury grant; a rebuild grant and a bereavement grant for next-of-kin. The re-establishment grant supports people in the medium-to-long term, as they make importance choices about where to live.

Well over 3,900 people have received a bushfire grant, but we know many people who are eligible have not yet come forward. For many people it takes time to understand what support they might need, and we continue to encourage them to get in contact with us.

As always we recognise the huge generosity provided by Australians and others overseas.

New growth on blackened land

There are many beautiful bushfire recovery stories like this one where a vegetable garden re-grows hope for a family after fire tears through their home and dreams.

For those of you who contributed I thought you would like to know that every day, we hear from people who are using bushfire grants to help them with their recovery. Matt, whom we met in East Gippsland, used the money to buy a fridge, batteries and solar panels; things he needed to start again from scratch.

Carlos in South Australia told us how he used the grant to pay for a shed, a trailer and wiring, so he could live on his land while he rebuilt his home.

(Left) Lynn on Kangaroo Island and Matt from East Gippsland, recipients of the bushfire grants shared how the grants have helped them with their recovery.

Anne, who is in her 80s wrote us a letter to say the $20,000 grant helped her buy the essentials she needed to feel safe and comfortable while starting her life over.

And Lynne on Kangaroo Island told us the emergency grant was a financial buffer to help with things that weren’t covered by insurance.

But it’s a long way from over. Bushfire-affected communities are still hurting and healing, and we’ll be there to help them for as long as it’s needed.

National Volunteer Week

Red Cross volunteer Fatima volunteered throughout the Black Summer bushfires and again during the COVID-19 pandemic, helping to deliver care packages to Victorians in isolation. 

This week we celebrate National Volunteer Week where we honour and thank the thousands of people who volunteer for Red Cross, putting their time, energy and heart into the vital work they do.

Red Cross is powered by volunteers, and it’s only with their support that we’re able to be there for those in our community who need help when times are tough.

Shirley Symes who is a Telecross volunteer calls her 12 clients every Tuesday morning between 8am and 9am to make sure they are okay and have a chat gauging how they are coping. Shirley also put together a decorative competition for the members of her Probus Club to have a guess who is who. For the month of May, she has also sent out a Brain Teaser to give their grey matter a bit of a workout.

Maggie Leutton from Port Fairy has been doing ‘biscuit drop’ with her friend on alternate weeks on their bikes. They drop off biscuits to each other's mailbox to ‘share afternoon tea together’ virtually. She has also been gathering fresh produce from local residents and organising funds to help two families on temporary work visas pay their essential bills (power & gas). Both parents had lost jobs and are without family or financial support. The residual produce from their gardens goes to the Community House Swap shelves for others to collect or swap as needed. She is also offering to help families make FaceTime video calls to their relatives in aged care homes to keep them connected to their families whilst under lockdown.  

We are also getting so much positive feedback from the corporate volunteers involved in COVID Connect. For many of our corporate volunteers, this is the first exposure they have had in the humanitarian sector as well as first time volunteers. A volunteer from Lendlease shared his experience with us: 

"Since joining the volunteer team I have found this was part of my life that was missing. The gift of giving, and my time seems such a minor gift when you talk to different people and hear their stories and how they are coping from day to day.  If all it takes is time to talk to someone to make them feel part of a community and let them know that someone cares on the other end of the phone, I will keep doing this as long as it takes."

These are wonderful stories of our volunteers who go above and beyond to help others, especially during these tough times.

This year more than ever we say thank you to all our volunteers – and we encourage everyone to reach out and say thank you as well.

You can read about some of our amazing volunteers here.

Communities – dynamic people supporting each other

We know that communities are amazing, dynamic networks of people who take humanitarian action at the drop of a hat, particularly in tough times. As humans who connect with many others through their networks, we are incredibly good at finding the best ways to support one another when we’re in need.

Nothing brought this to life more, than the recent 2020 bushfire crisis, which highlighted that meeting the needs of communities in crisis is reliant on both centralised organisation responses (such as government and NGOs) as well as on the ground community action.

During February to March 2020, with our partners at Swinburne University, we carried out a rapid scan of what was going on in communities (on the ground and online) to support each other. The research documented information on the responses from established organisations, as well as action that was sparked by individuals and community groups, outside of structured/established humanitarian organisations. It should be noted that our research looked at action that was visible online, so this really only captures the ‘tip of the iceberg’ as many of the offline and word of mouth type community activities will not be represented here.

We found that established organisations scaled their services rapidly responding to the emerging need and that these responses remained within their existing organisational domain of expertise (ie wildlife, humanitarian, emergency response etc).

We also found that millions of Australians took action in response to the bushfires, beyond the donor dollar that was so widely publicized. Communities took action online and on the ground, seeking to solve for the most immediate needs of people in communities, in particular with communities that connected geographically, and those that aligned with our social identity (i.e. farmers giving to farmers, architects donating skills).

Interestingly, 60-70% of community-led initiatives were in direct response to the bushfire crisis did not exist before and focussed on the immediate needs of people, involving a range of different volunteer/action behaviours, showing that people just draw on whatever resources/knowledge they have to help out.

Architects Assist
An example of action is ‘Architects Assist - established on 4 January by Jiri Lev, supported by Australian Institute of Architects - represents 500 practices, willing to give pro bono assistance to those impacted, as well as access to over 1,400 students to enable anyone affected by a disaster to rebuild their lives.

Mallacoota Community News
An established community group on Facebook founded in February 2017, initially set up to share news and information relevant to the Mallacoota Community and District. It has over 8,800 members on Facebook. During the 2019/2020 bushfire season the Facebook group distributed important information in relation to the ongoing fires, roadblocks, community members who were missing, how to access help and support when affected by bushfires. Additionally, they set up a separate fundraising page for wildlife shelter, fire station and community and another separate homepage to offer and coordinate accommodation, pet sitting and other services to community members in need.

Take what you want, feed what is hungry
A one-off, individual act (captured on Twitter) shows a sign on the side of a country road that reads “take what you want, feed what is hungry”, placed between three large feed bags on the side of a country road. This type of humanitarian action consists of a person volunteering their time and resources in attempts to help farmers cope with food insecurity for their livestock.

Gardens for Farmers
Established on 3 January, the Facebook group has over 500 members, the aim is to provide farmers who lost their gardens with seed packs, fruit trees etc.

Tumbarumba & Surrounds Bushfire Hay Drive
Tumbarumba & Surrounds Bushfire Hay Drive is a crowdfunding campaign organised by a local community member in Tumbarumba NSW. The campaign’s organiser donated a truck, a driver and other necessary equipment to deliver hay to the bushfire affected area.

COVID-19 has shown the same – many many community groups (on the ground and face to face) springing to life creating all types of support and response. 

COVID inspiration from the Matildas

Lastly, have a read at this inspiring story from the Matildas on how you can get motived to stay the course, and their off-field performance during COVID-19.

And don’t forget to listen to Episode 4 of our COVID Collective podcast – The Art of the Phone Call.

This episode features disaster recovery expert Shona Whitton who explains how regular phone conversations can help people cope much better with crisis. Meanwhile, Red Cross volunteer Peter Brosnan has been calling people in quarantine due to COVID-19. He has a wealth of useful tips and quirky stories.

Talk to you next week.