The Black Summer bushfires may be 18 months ago, but their effects are still being strongly felt in the Snowy Valleys, so Anglicare Bushfire Relief Co-ordinator Jo Murrell is still as busy as ever.
She has been implementing Threadtogether, Anglicare’s program providing clothes to the needy.
“They reclaim clothing that could have gone into landfill, and distribute it out to the homeless, those in natural disaster areas, drought-affected areas, fires and floods,” she said.
“Residents can have a choice of what clothing they need to replace. We also have morning tea and that sort fo thing, and have the chaplains come down (Pastor Debbie Gadd and Phyllis Willis from Tumbarumba Community Church); it is a way of connecting with the residents. We work quite closely with them (the chaplains).
“We are continuing on with our work assisting residents who have been directly impacted with the fire, just making sure that they’re still going okay; if they need additional support, who we need to link them with, whether that be a mental health service or helping them fill out forms for something; we are here to help them with that sort of thing as well.
We also use services like GIVIT (an organisation that supports over 3000 charities in Australia and has provided great help to the victims of the Dunns Road fire) if they need something specific for their home or business or something like that we can look it up on the GIVIT site.”
There are at least as many bushfire-affected people in the region needing help as there were at any time going back to when they happened.
“We’ve got a lot of people coming forward now who didn’t come forward in the initial instance, whether it be a pride thing, or they didn’t realise how difficult it was going to be and they do need help now,” she said.
“It will be long-term and the studies all show that it is going to take a long time; you are talking years of recovery; people have been through so much, so much trauma and they can’t process it all in one go, so we have seen a number of people coming forward asking for help.”
She said the fact that much of the landscape in the region is still scarred by the fires has a psychological effect on many in the community.
“We are still living within that zone (hard-hit by the fires), so the environment does look tremendously different to a lot of other areas, so when you get up every day and you are still looking at burnt trees, and there’s not a lot of regrowth, you do get trauma fatigue from that,” she said.
Anglicare is assisting hundreds of Snowy Valleys residents, and as well as GIVIT, they work closely with St Vincent de Paul, Andrew Rae from Snowy Valleys Council, Marguerite Burte from PHN and the mental health team.
“We all work so closely together, and keep in touch with each other; we have interagency meetings and that sort of thing so we can keep on top of it and we can refer within those services to make sure people are getting the right support.:
Mrs Murrell believes the support is making a difference in the community, and this is the most satisfying part of the job.
“Some days you probably think you’re not doing too much, but then the next day we get in some generators or something like that and we were able to help people.
“Assisting with housing; assisting with clothing or some birthday presents for some kids who lost absolutely everything; those sorts of things, they do make a difference, and just having that connection with people.”
The work isn’t easy, but it is rewarding.
“It definitely is,” she said.
“I love it; it’s just so good to be able to help so many people, and you make some really lovely friends out of it too; you have strong connections with them and keeping that communication going with them all the time.”