The Blazing Heart of Community
by Kirsten Macdonald and crew Kate O’Donnell, Montanna Macdonald
Like many all over the world, our hearts are left swollen and aching as we witness on our screens and for some in their backyards; the scorched earth and hellish sky.
Beach blue now engulfed with smoke haze and embers of the worst kind; scarring the land with unprecedented ferocity. Beneath with sooty tears and anger lies the desperation of people fighting in what has become one of the worst National disaster bushfires in Australian history. The devastation runs deep and will continue long after the last flame as sputtered out. For the impact of wildfire is a destructive force that will echo forever.
As we heard the stories from friends and family defending their homes, like so many, we felt desperately sad, angry and frustrated, helpless.
Our fellow tribe were left without water, listening to the cries of dying animals, burning fauna and drought-impacted earth baked to concrete under the glazing sear of intense heat. Lives were lost, people and wildlife, pets and livestock. Gone. And bushfire season hasn’t even begun for many areas.
We started asking those impacted “Who are the organisations there now, helping rebuild and doing work person to person, on the ground?” The resounding response was BlazeAid.
Started after Black Saturday in 2009 by Kilmore East farmers Rhonda and Kevin Butler, BlazeAid is volunteer based and has helped rebuild fences and lift the spirits of people who are often facing their second or third flood event after years of drought, or devastating losses through bushfires.
BlazeAid volunteers work in a disaster-affected area for many months, not only helping individuals and families but also helping rebuild the local communities.
The 100% Australian run registered charity currently has 14 base camps around Australia helping on the ground.
So Kate and I packed the boot with goodies and made the trip to Lexton Victoria to meet with Bruce Hindson, co-ordinator of one of the camps.
We drive on a dusty road into a popup township of campers, caravans and tents, we soon realise we are in good company, a thriving and bustling place. The trailers are lined up ready to go out for the next job, each one equipped with the tools needed to build fences and make repairs. But BlazeAid isn’t just about fences. As Bruce explains, it’s really about people.
“Talking to people on the phone is okay, but actually dropping in and having a cup of tea, face to face can make all the difference. You have to meet people, shake their hand, check-in and listen. People underestimate what this means. When you have a team of people staying nearby at a hall, or a footy ground that are there to help you get back on your feet and get the fences mended, it can change everything for a person. Fences are expensive to replace, and people have sometimes had everything wiped out. You got no fences? You got no farm. To help them with an ear, a conversation and a sense of community go a long way” says Bruce.
With trailers stationed in every state, BlazeAid has anything from 15 to 110 people turn up to help with a carefully planned roster, logistics and rebuilding set up. People may give 2 hours of their time or two months and the dedication of return folks each year gives you goosebumps.
The Lions Club are there today, donating their time and helping set up a marquee tent for more room.
Bruce and his wife Janice tell us the community generosity is fantastic. They tell us the story of one night everyone was at the local pub, the publican put on a special meals night at a discount price for all the BlazeAid crew. When they went to pay for their meals, 2 x locals had covered the lot. “People look after each other, and there are so many more stories like this, it happens all the time,” says Bruce.
The team in the kitchen are working away and tell us there is a real “get this done” mentality along with lots of laughs and big smiles and you get the feeling this is a marathon, not a sprint.
“People think once the fire or flood has gone, it’s all over with. But this is not the case. It’s like a funeral, at first the casseroles roll in, then 6 weeks later everyone starts to get on with their life. This is often when families are only just beginning to come to terms with what has happened and wondering how the hell they are going to get going again” says Hindson.
“I am not going to lie to you, there have been times when we have rolled up, I have met a farmer and thought I would see him hanging from a tree by the end of the week; the devastation runs that deep. But what do you know, a week later the bloke and his family are smiling, they have some future to look to and feel a bit of support. That’s what happens.”
A sobering thought.
For many, they might not have lost their lives but may have 200 head of sheep badly burned, or wildlife living on the property, ancient trees protected on a generational property.
Animals they have raised have died. Or perhaps they might have hundreds of acres of crops ruined, years of work gone in a moment. They may have already been suffering from drought, and this type of disaster is the straw to break the camel’s back. Let’s not forget sacred sites and the lands of native animals close to the country’s heart and soul.
Suzi and Ruth are busy in the kitchen. They tell us; “People come in each day covered in soot, smoke, they’ve had a hard day, sweaty, dirty exhausted…Then even after all they have done for the day or dealt with, there is storytelling, laughter and jokes. From randy goats taking a fancy to the latest volunteer to the little pleasures of a freshly made scone; there is a community here. This is what Australia is made of.”
An operation like BlazeAid costs anywhere up to $5000 a week for a camp to run and facilitate.
Relying on volunteers, business sponsorship and the help of the donations from the public it is a 100% charity. It relies on these funds to help it continue to grow, engineer trailers and get on the road to having those conversations to those that need help the most.
We know there are many who are helping by donating to major organisations, but it was an easy decision for us to support BlazeAid and move from feeling despair and take some action.
We have chosen to donate $20 from every new Subscription in February to BlazeAid. We currently give $2 from every subscription to Vision Australia. So your gift is supporting two incredible charities, both of which are hands-on and help those in need of restoration.
For the month of February, we are dedicating every edition from our online Magazine, Podcast and App to the stories of those impacted by the Bushfires, because we believe that the unfiltered truth of our collective stories is the fabric of life. It is the one thing everyone has; a story.
At Ponderings, we need to hold that space for these stories to be told. So know that not only will you be supporting the creation of this space but also BlazeAid and Vision Australia.