It’s now the end of July, 7 months since the first of the Upper Murray cluster fires that began an inferno of similar severity to the 1939 bushfires. One of the main differences, is that many larger properties have been subdivided into smaller properties, a large percentage of which do not support families on agriculture alone. These are either smaller farms where perhaps one partner works to put food on the table and provide funds for large capital expenses; or lifestyle blocks, where owners either rely solely on outside income or may be semi-retired and only generate a modest income from their land.
Whatever the situation, many of these properties lost livestock, pasture and fodder (stored hay, silage, and grain/pellets). Additionally, the loss of infrastructure in the way of fencing, yards, water systems, sheds, equipment and for some, houses, took a huge toll. Whilst some people had insurance, even those who thought they were well covered are finding huge gaps they are unable to meet.
Large grants have been made available to commercial scale farmers whose farming income exceeds their off-farm income, which has assisted with the shortfall. A huge number of fire affected people in the Upper Murray do not qualify for these grants.
Hence the importance of organisations such as Blaze Aid, Red Cross and many different church and philanthropic groups that are coming to give financial aid and help.
The Corryong Baptist Church with the backing of donations from generous Baptist folk has been in a position to help fire affected farmers across the board. From my perspective assisting Pastor Graeme van Brummelen, it is not the amount of financial aid that we are offering, but that we consider each and every person of equal worthiness, no matter whether they have 2 cows or 200 cows. This is the teaching of Jesus, which we demonstrate by our actions rather than our words in this situation.
Jesus also taught compassion. Because I don’t have his ability to see into people’s hearts I am learning to become a better listener. I can help the person a lot better if I understand where they’re at in their recovery journey.
At this point in time, some folk have told their story often enough and don’t want to go through it again. For example they’ve been happy to receive a seed or freight subsidy from the BUV, but don’t want to accept a Relief and Stimulus Package as they feel this is “double dipping”. They are grateful but their head is full of the next steps they need to take to prepare for a fencing team arriving sometime in the next month and they only have headspace for that task.
Some folk have been lost for words when receiving a package or assistance. Having reason to follow up in the future, gives them the opportunity to tell their story if they wish to, or determine whether they have other needs where we can help or connect them.
Others have only just come up for breath from their task-focussed labours to contain their animals from wandering all over the district and keeping them alive. Or they’ve had their livestock away on agistment, have managed to replace some fencing, the stock have arrived home, it’s winter, they need hay to get them through, their hay shed has not been rebuilt and they don’t have any stored fodder. This is only one thought stream as the reality is juggling a myriad of thoughts and tasks. They feel overwhelmed and are only now asking for help and perhaps, not feeling comfortable in having to ask. Their first and foremost need may be to tell their story. Sometimes they are ready to receive assistance and we are in a position to offer them something or refer them to where they can get the help they need.
Others may be further down the track in their recovery, but have lost or never had social connectedness. They may not even want to receive any financial help from a church, but need someone to come alongside, listen, and perhaps connect or re-connect them back into the community. One of the effects of a natural disaster can be to fragment existing relationships, both at individual and group level. For these people, someone to assist them into easing back into community belonging is another role the church can offer. Sometimes other community groups are already forming or in existence and local knowledge of this nature is invaluable. The church needs to be part of the overall community for this to happen.
Currently, Corryong Baptist Church has put together the 4th round of Relief and Stimulus Packages, which are a wonderful resource to have on offer when making the first connection or following up with fire-affected people. As many folk on properties also have off-farm income from a business they either work for or operate in town, these businesses have been whacked with a double-barrelled shot from both the bushfires and coronavirus. BUV donations have purchased vouchers from the bulk of these businesses, supporting their owners and employees as well as those receiving these packages.
Such is the heart of this community, that several businesses declined the offer to purchase vouchers for Round 4. Their story was identical. “We’d love to take your money, but we’ve only redeemed a few vouchers from the earlier round. Re-direct it towards groceries instead”. Not only are these businesses struggling from lack of custom, they often echo the words of property holders who decline our financial assistance with “I’m sure there’s somebody else who needs it more”.
Corryong Baptist Church