Submitted by PDG Janne Speirs, District 9820 Emergency Chair
Well how quickly things change – who would have imagined that nearly five months after the devastating fires that ravaged so much of Australia during late 2019-early 2020, the aftermath and recovery process would have been put so completely on the ‘back burner’ as the World adjusted to life in lockdown! While we have been incredibly fortunate on the COVID-19 front so far, our hearts go out those across the globe where the number of cases and indeed the number of deaths from this pandemic have changed so many lives in so many ways!
Unfortunately, though, one of the hardest aspects of the pandemic for us in D9820 (and indeed in the other fire zones across the Country) has been the delay to our fire recovery efforts. Re-fencing was just really gaining momentum as were the first few working bees to rebuild stockyards, sheds etc. but with around 350-400 primary residences lost, and so many kilometers of fencing, as well as all the other losses, it has been a huge task just even to track all those who have been impacted.
Our local Committee has continued to meet via online means and have been receiving ongoing referrals of those in need from the Case Managers assigned to various survivors. The Committee has continued – within the bounds of social distancing and other lockdown restrictions – to get vouchers to survivors, hay to desperate stock and 20 or 40 foot containers onto properties for storage as people start to gather some belongings again. The latest development has been the first on site deliveries of caravans which have been refurbished by people within a neighbouring District and that will make a huge difference to people’s lives as some are currently living in very poor conditions. Some donated generators have also been delivered to some of those who need them. Coming in to Winter, East Gippsland climate is deteriorating quickly, particularly as you get higher into the mountains.
A recent request on my part to the District for Winter woolens, blankets, warm coats and so on has had a massive response and we have already closed the appeal. A number of deliveries have already been undertaken to areas affected by the fires – in some cases individual survivors were able to take delivery of goods and in others we have taken goods to local Neighbourhood Houses or other distribution points  so goods can be easily dispersed to those who need them so desperately. These people have nothing left and of course the Summer clothes they were given immediately after the fires are completely ineffective now.
The other major undertaking at the moment is the writing of three Global Grant applications which will assist in fire recovery at the request of locals in need. The first is nearly ready to go and will purchase and supply high energy stock feed, hay and nutritional magnesium ‘licks’ for stock which as well as having gone through the fires has been existing in drought conditions for some four years. Autumn calving means that many of the cows have calves at foot, so it is even more vital that these animals are receiving the most nutritious feed available. Although some areas are greening up and look quite good, long term it will be at least twelve months before this grass is strong enough to really withstand stock and definitely before it will be able to be baled for hay or silage.
In the meantime, the Grant will assist in some way to relieve this situation. Training will also be undertaken for farmers to assist them to overcome the drought and fire by use of appropriate pastures, genetic best practices for breeding stock and other aspects of bringing.