In the first edition of Gippslandia, over three years ago, we were moved by a tour of the home that Shayne and Megan Cheney had rebuilt after losing their ‘forever house’ in the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.
We learnt about their determination to return to their Koornalla site and rebuild, as they wanted to remain in their beloved local community.
On January 23, in the aftermath of this year’s devastating bushfires, Megan posted a very poignant set of recommendations to assist those in the affected East Gippsland communities.
Megan’s insights were much valued when originally shared on social media, so, with her permission, we are reprinting them here. We believe that these community-centric ideas can still benefit Gippsland’s current bushfire recovery efforts and provide guidance for future shocks to the region, such as the emerging COVID-19 situation.
So, this is a bit of a read, but I’ve decided to post my thoughts, from my experience, on how people may help the families who have lost their homes in the bushfires, in the hope that you share with anyone who may be interested...
Offer a home unconditionally, not just for one or two weeks.
It is likely to take over 18 months to rebuild. People need sufficient time to work out insurance, clear land, draw-up house plans, get building permits, find a local builder, get a home loan approved and begin the build.
Also, try not to displace the family. Keep them close to school/work for continuity and stability.
I’d like to see donated monies to go towards the reimbursement /coverage of costs of the following:
Clearing land: Let the owner use LOCAL earthmovers. Don’t give the job to a multinational contractor.
Local councils should waive rates and building permits.
Medicare cards, birth certificates, drivers licences, passports, etc. should be replaced without having to reapply and without cost.
Don’t give people Coles, Target, Big W and Woolworths gift cards, etc. Instead, give vouchers from LOCAL community businesses (without expiry, so the family can use them at their discretion). These can include local restaurants, hardware stores, hairdressers, butchers, beauticians, nurseries, pet and stock supplies, fuel stations, car mechanics, camping and fishing stores.
Waive school fees.
Offer up your holiday house to them for a weekend away.
Reimburse or subsidise rent.
Offer to fill out application forms for the families if this is required for any charity support.
I am educated, articulate, can read and write, but for months and months, I could not think straight enough to complete a form. Therefore, I just didn’t apply.
Try not to provide or gift the affected families with material possessions, as they are difficult to store. Their properties are not secure, fenced or have storage.
Cook continuously for 12 months. Just drop the food and go. There’s no need to visit and chat. The family need space.
Try not to say, ‘Yell out if you need anything’. They won’t yell out. Just think of something and do it: i.e. cook, mow lawns or paddocks, invite children on day trips, etc.
Don’t offer something that you are skilled at or own a business in, i.e. tree lopping, and then send an invoice for payment. Communicate clearly if the offer is free or discounted.
Group together labour to re-fence paddocks and property. This is another good place for charity money to be distributed.
Labour, labour, labour. The families will also have to get back to work to pay their debts. They are likely to work after-hours and on weekends at their property over the next 18 months or more. Offer help of free labour in any capacity. Help erect a shed. Help move boxes and furniture once their new house is built. Help replant trees, orchards or their veggie garden.
Down the track, once the families have rebuilt, consider offering quality items you own that you don’t use, but that the affected families may not have been able to afford or justify buying. Items like tents, camp chairs, fishing rods, outdoors settings, lawnmowers, garden tools, hoses, pot plants, etc.
Our home burnt down 10 years ago, for me it’s been tricky, exhausting, sad, exhausting, frustrating, humbling, exhausting, grateful and at the end the day, a story… but one that we came out the other side of, intact, a bit worse for wear, but as a family x