Communities Recognised For Bushfire Rebuild Efforts

Volunteers and community leaders have been recognised in East Gippsland Shire Council’s fourth and final Bushfire Recovery Progress Report, which charts the region’s journey to recovery since the 2019-20 summer bushfires.

Mayor Cr Tom Crook said the report underlines the importance of putting the recovery process in the hands of locals after a natural disaster such as the 2019-20 bushfires, which burned some 320,000 hectares of the shire.

“Investing in community-centred initiatives has been key to recovery,” he said. “Some $50 million worth of bushfire recovery capital work projects, backed by $39.5 million in government funding, have been rolled out, and major public projects such as Mallacoota Skate Park, Buchan Caves Reserve Linkage, Bruthen Streetscape and the Bemm River footpaths have all been community backed and driven.

“Community Recovery Committees (CRC), other representative groups and volunteers played a vital role in the recovery,” Cr Crook noted. “All 10 CRC groups supported community recovery projects and, backed by bushfire recovery funding, delivered 116 community events and workshops, including 47 delivered through a partnership with the East Gippsland Community Foundation.

“It’s important to appreciate the dedication of volunteers and community leaders who have stepped up during challenging times to bring people together. Community events and major public projects have the power to lift people up. I’m pleased that this report reflects the efforts of volunteers,” Cr Crook said.

The progress report also spotlights the contributions and achievements made by local organisations and gives special thanks to the state and federal governments for their support. It incorporates activities and insights from Community Recovery Committees, Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action (DEECA) and Parks Victoria, and Emergency Recovery Victoria – which, among other efforts, created a Strategy for Aboriginal Community-led Recovery and facilitated a Local Aboriginal Bushfire Recovery Planning Workshop.

“The report references five key pillars of any community rebuild, namely our social, economic, built, natural and cultural environments,” Cr Crook said. “These pillars provide the base for future recovery and efforts following any future natural disaster.”

The report lists 16 private dwellings as having been rebuilt since the previous report in late 2022 and shows a steady growth in building and planning permit numbers. Council is mindful, however, that there is more to do to support rebuilding of homes and that remains a key focus.

Local Economic Recovery (Economic Stimulus) Program-backed projects completed include Tambo Valley Honey in Bruthen, the Mallacoota Abalone Limited Processing Facility rebuild, Metung Hot Springs and boat-charter provider Riviera Nautic. Some 900 businesses have also been assisted over the four years by bushfire recovery programs. Importantly, East Gippsland’s visitor numbers are now back to pre-Black Summer and pre-COVID levels.

Funding has been directed to Gippsland Primary Health Network to support trauma counselling, provided via the Royal Flying Doctor Service and Relationships Australia Victoria to support mental health and wellbeing. Mental health clinicians have provided counselling to more than 300 people across bushfire impacted East Gippsland communities through partnerships with 13 local services and organisations.

Future focused

Looking forward, the report provides an overview of work by Council and communities to be better prepared for future events. Council and communities, supported by state and federal governments, have worked together to:

• Strengthen emergency plans – so the shire is now better placed if it faces another natural disaster.

• Train communities to activate relief centres when needed.

• Upgrade community facilities with ember proofing, generators (with more to come) and satellite telecommunications (through the Federal government-funded Strengthening Telecommunications Against Natural Disaster (STAND) program) and audio-visual equipment.

“While this is the last of Council’s formal progress reports, we’re continuing to support recovery efforts by embedding project delivery and preparedness initiatives into our ongoing programs, and we have support from state and federal governments for our ongoing work,” Cr Crook said.

“For some, the recovery journey is long,” Cr Crook said. “We will continue to support our people and communities.”

Bushfire Recovery Progress Report is available at Bushfire Recovery Plans and Report.

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