Long-term support for bushfire affected communities

In early February, bushfires tore through properties in the north-east of Perth, destroying 86 homes along the way. But since February, news of the fires has been trumped by lockdowns, an election and a cyclone. For affected communities, however, the fire is still very much front of mind.

Carolyn Ebell-Taylor is a Lay Preacher at Gidgegannup Community Church, in a town where the fire took many homes, including the home of two congregation members. She says one of the greatest blessings of the Uniting Church WA is its willingness to just say “yes”.

“It makes such a big difference to people’s perception of the church when you have a church that backs you and doesn’t require millions of forms to say yes to what’s needed,” she says. “Can we fund a community breakfast – yes.”

That community breakfast happened on Saturday 27 March and according to Rev David Jackson, Convenor of the Uniting Church WA’s Disaster Relief and Community Recovery Working Group, it was a resounding success.

“It was very valuable to be there to provide resources and stand alongside the community,” he said. “In communities like Gidgegannup, people see themselves as resilient, selfsufficient and not needing outside help, so making yourself and your services known in a nonthreatening way is important.

“Just to say we care and we are here if you want to make contact with us.”

Carolyn says the community breakfast was also fantastic for the many firefighters who attended.

“We tend to forget that manyvolunteer firefighters are members of the community too,” she said. “One firefighter saw his own home go up in smoke, so it affects them deeply when they feel they’ve failed to stop a fire.”

The Disaster Relief and Community Recovery Working Group also committed $4 000 to help kit out 45 Temporary Accommodation Pods that were donated by the Minderoo Foundation for those who lost their house.

“The pods are really important because a lot of people have horses and livestock, so they can’t just move,” Carolyn says.

Bushfire recovery is a long journey and there is still much to be done. But that, Carolyn says, is where the Uniting Church is so valuable.

“The support is long-term,” she said. “Things move on so quickly in the news cycle as the next crisis occurs, but just because it’s gone from the news cycle, doesn’t mean it’s all fixed.

“I think it will be about five years before everything is restored.”

Mikaela Turner

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