On Wednesday I joined Corryong brigade and members of Corryong Group at the station. It was time for these members to come together, take a breath, and share stories; which was applauded by peer support.
Conditions had lulled since fire roared through the usually idyllic surrounds of the hills and valleys in the Upper Murray on 30 December, and relief support was engaged at the firefront. Our members were able to take account of the past nine days when 2020 was welcomed with a firefight.
For most people the main focus after the fire has been about taking stock of cattle and livestock, as well as assessing property damage. Many have lost homes including a number of CFA volunteers.
When I spoke with one of our people who had lost his home, his first concern was about how else he could help with the fire effort, requesting whether it would be advantageous to use his local knowledge for strike teams. People were processing this incident by keeping busy.
If I can summarise the typical manner of people in this area, when offered hardship support through our volunteer body VFBV some requested this be provided to someone else.
All our members are mentally managing a sense of guilt – questioning why some lost everything and others had homes saved. Even each brigade will say they’re doing quite well compared to others.
At the get-together the mood among members of Corryong was pretty buoyant, reloading for the forecast heat of today and Saturday. The reality is that for a lot of Corryong, Cudgewa, Nariel Valley, Tintaldra and Towong, the area is now quite black. There are pockets of grassland that could burn, but people feel reasonably safe. Most grassland fires are out, and it’s now about repairing fences to keep stock in and getting power back on.
However, I have spoken with the Walwa brigade captain who said people in this area were feeling isolated. Getting relief support into this area has been restrictive, and only yesterday a power generator came into the town. This community fought hard for the town with strike teams on the first night of the fire and followed up on the next spike day on Saturday. They have protected the main street of the town including the bush nursing hospital, local pub and surrounding fodder, which is so valuable right now, and they don’t want to lose it during this next high-risk period.
CFA has been getting peer support for our members and the communities from day two and three, and senior leaders and key people have been active in attendance around the region. As well, every hall you drive past is full of donations. This has kept the people buoyant, showing that the outside world does care.
Moving forward the key for this area is focus and support for the long-term recovery. Talking with our volunteers and community members the conversation has already identified that this recovery will be a three-year journey.
People are taking acquittal of stock, which will take some time to replenish, and assessing the impact on land and structures. An example of the urgency to take action immediately is how dairy farms have been impacted. The priority has been getting temporary power to dairy sheds to address the need to milk the cows so they don’t go off, as well as arranging for getting the milk out of the area no matter the quality.
People in the Upper Murray have been a resilient bunch for a long time – they were affected by fires in the early 2000s. But recovery is not something they can do alone.
This is where CFA is well placed to provide the support structures for the communities impacted. Most people of the valleys and townships are members of our organisation and we’re the hub in many of the places. The CFA shed is a focal point for social gatherings. Our people here have appreciated the support out of CFA HQ, and the welfare checks for people have been well received.
We’ll encourage people to return to visit and stay in these regions, to enjoy what the Upper Murray has to offer. But importantly these communities will need ongoing support for the next few years, and we’ll be here to do that.