In recent months, alarm has been raised as Australia heads into a particularly hot and dry summer. Yet as concern mounts for the fires that haven’t yet started, there are people who feel forgotten in the aftermath of the ones extinguished four years ago.
The courageous work of emergency services along with the remarkable compassion of various charities, faith groups, and community organisations during the crisis has not been forgotten.
But what happens when that support gradually goes away? Recovery from such a life-altering event takes time, and yet over the course of months and years, support for that recovery dwindles.
When the fire has been put out, and the rubble has been cleared, all that remains is bedrock and the foundations which used to anchor a home.
Frontier Services provides support that lasts when many other services have left. In the fire-affected region of East Gippsland, Bushfire Recovery Chaplain Peter Harvey has established an ongoing presence.
Lying on the southern outskirts of the Snowy River National Park, Buchan’s town centre runs along a single main road threading together eateries, cottage stays, and hotels.
Further down the road is the Buchan Recreation Reserve. When the fire took over, countless people - many of them children and elderly - crowded together through the night without power, with temperatures rising from the inflamed surroundings.
Mary and Dennis, living on the outskirts of Buchan, couldn’t make it out to the Reserve in town. Instead, they were forced to spend the night sheltering in a dam at the bottom of their land.
"Flames roaring, trapping us. I thought I was going to drive out. The car caught on fire before we could get away," recalls Dennis.
Mary says, “We were so involved with making our escape from where we thought we were safe that I didn't look back at the house."
She describes this detail with gratitude; relieved that she was spared the vision of their home destroyed. While the rebuilding of property and land restoration are always front of mind in the wake of bushfires, the associated mental toll cannot be understated.
By being on the ground, listening to people’s stories and struggles, and reaching out to those most isolated, Peter’s work is about identifying and meeting people’s unaddressed needs.
In September, drawing upon Frontier Services’ Outback Links program, Peter’s presence was crucial in orchestrating a community rebuild project in Buchan.
Over two weeks, more than twenty volunteers provided assistance to five separate properties across the remote area. On the same reserve grounds where the Buchan townsfolk had sought safety during the fires, now lined a procession of caravans there to provide support.
Each morning, the volunteers ascended from the bottom of the valley to the various households welcoming them. Tirelessly, they cleared old fencing, rejuvenated overgrown garden beds, and put the finishing touches on newly built homes.
Until recently, Mary couldn’t bear to look at the stone husk of her old home, preventing her from tending to a garden she had held such pride in. Now she can look at it in a new light.
"It looks like the old place almost.”
"The experience of having volunteers has been wonderful. They've tucked in and done a magnificent job. It's unbelievable."
With the practical support of half a dozen Outback Links volunteers and two weeks of treasured connection, it’s now an area she can once again cherish.
If you want to help us continue to support people across rural and remote Australia, call us or go online and make a donation today.