Victorian town shows true grit in months following bushfire

New Year’s Eve 2019 in Mallacoota is a day locals will never forget.

This time last year, the small town – located in the East Gippsland region of Victoria – was home to a sky painted an angry shade of red.

That fateful day approximately 4,000 tourists and residents were forced to take shelter on the local beach, waiting for the Australian navy to safely evacuate them. From the beach, they helplessly watched the small town of Mallacoota succumb to one of the worst bushfires on record.

Authorities estimated that more than 120 structures in Mallacoota were destroyed by the bushfire, including at least 100 homes.

A number of the area’s small businesses were also left devastated by the bushfire, including the Mallacoota Pony Club, Golf and Country Club, and local Surf Life Saving Club.

Prior to the fires, the Mallacoota Pony Club had worked hard to improve and maintain its facilities and expand into sporting and educational horsemanship programs. Unfortunately, the bushfire managed to destroy the clubhouse, office, round yard, jumping area, and cross country course, as well as the club’s holding yards, fencing, gates, maintenance tools and all horse-riding equipment.

As a result, the club was in desperate need of financial support. As part of Commonwealth Bank’s Bushfire Recovery Grants program, the club was given $50,000 to fund the rebuilding of the Pony Club, including the construction of new boundary fences and gates.

The money was also used to fund much needed clubhouse resources such as chairs, tables, uniforms, teaching manuals, saddles and saddle racks.

Cate Tregellas, Secretary of Mallacoota Pony Club, said the first few months following the fires had been challenging to say the least, and the only thing that helped the club pull through was the ongoing community support.

“The support we received is what kept us going after the total devastation of our club and we’re incredibly grateful to those who helped us or simply offered a shoulder to cry on,” she said.

“We were delighted when we learned CommBank selected the club for a $50,000 donation. This will go a really long way in rescuing our club, bringing it back to life and open for business again once we’re past the coronavirus.”

Over the course of 2020, the bank provided 213 Bushfire Recovery Grants to different organisations that were impacted by the 2019/2020 bushfires.

The Mallacoota Golf and Country Club and Surf Life Saving Club also received Bushfire Recovery Grants from the bank to the value of $44,500 and $50,000 respectively.

During the Mallacoota bushfire, the town’s Surf Life Saving Club had its first aid caravan destroyed – ruining uniforms, flags, signs, first aid equipment and supplies.

Worse still, the caravan and its contents were uninsured. The club’s president, Simon Berry, said the $50,000 Bushfire Recovery Grant is being used to construct a purpose-built emergency management facility.

The facility will be used to respond to emergency situations, host incident management team meetings, and provide the club’s members with a bathroom and change room.

“As the only emergency service present at the beach areas we patrol, our first-aid skills and equipment can be lifesaving in the event of an emergency,” Mr Berry told the local newspaper, Eden Magnet, in November.

“Having access to an incident management, storage, and training area is vital for our club to meet its requirements as an emergency service. Mallacoota has faced ‘catastrophic fire risk’ conditions for the last three summers and is likely to do so again in future years. So a facility which provides services to locals and tourists, as well as support during natural disasters is a major asset to the community.”

Commonwealth Bank’s Head of Community Investment, Nathan Barker, said the bank was proud to be able to help so many organisations and communities impacted by the 2019/2020 bushfires.

“Mallacoota was left devastated following last year’s bushfire season. While the recovery process is still underway, the way the community has rallied and worked hard to rebuild and recover is inspirational,” he said.

“At Commonwealth Bank, we are committed to supporting the communities in which we serve, and the 2020 Bushfire Recovery Grants program is just one of the ways we have shown that support.”

In addition to the 213 grants provided to organisations across Australia through the Bushfire Recovery Grants program, the bank and its customers donated in excess of $4 million to the Australian Red Cross, and raised over $350,000 via the ‘Fiver4Fires’ National Staff Fundraising Day.

“Through our Bushfire Recovery Grants Program and various fundraising efforts, the bank has donated more than $10 million to fire-impacted communities across Australia,” Mr Barker said.

“2020 has been a tough for year for so many Australians in more ways than one, and we wanted to do whatever we could to ensure 2021 is a brighter and better year.”

To commemorate 12 months following Australia’s devastating bushfires, over the coming weeks and months CBA Newsroom will share some of the stories of hope and optimism that the bank was privy to through our Bushfire Recovery Grants program.

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