Community spirit helps build resilience after bushfires

11 April 2018

Resilient Australia Awards - 2017 winner profile

Communities in the south of Ballarat are proof of the human capacity to come back stronger and more resilient after a traumatic event. Six days before Christmas in 2015, areas around Scotsburn, Clarendon and Elaine were ravaged by bushfires, burning 4,674 hectares of land and destroying 12 homes and 75 outbuildings. It was a Christmas the local community wished they could forget and they knew they needed to rally to help each other get through the nightmare.

So just days after the fires, residents got together for dinner or brunches to recover together. This then led to a more formal committee made up of community members and government agencies to help residents connect and share their experiences in a safe, supportive and inclusive environment.

The Scotsburn Community Recovery Committee (CRC) ensured that any events or projects were tailored and planned by the community and for the community. Instead of the Council taking a lead, the community took full ownership of project delivery and implementation.

Events like brunches and dinners for residents were organised - with guest speakers talking about agricultural recovery, advice from arborists, fire guard information and bushfire planning. Residents participated in workshops taken by renowned horticulturist Rob Pelletier and learnt how to prepare fire gardens and planting fire preferred vegetation.

The CRC also organised a community project focusing on recovery through art therapy where residents were tutored by professional artists in jewellery making, felting, terrarium building, pastel and charcoal drawing, clay sculpture and block printing. At the one year anniversary of the fires, over 300 pieces of art work including photographs, sculptures and relics developed by residents were displayed at an exhibition.

The community identified its own needs itself and how to respond to these needs resulting in full ownership, attendance and a sense of pride in their programs and events. As a result residents continued to support each other through the long term recovery drawing on each other for support.

Michelle Richards who was a leading member of the CRC Committee says the community led approach was a resounding success.

“The community identified its own needs itself and how to respond to these needs resulting in full ownership, attendance and a sense of pride in their programs and events. As a result residents will continue to support each other through the long term recovery drawing on each other for support,” she said.

Ms Richards says an important component of building community resilience is developing strong networks and social capital.

The programs and events delivered have provided a vital opportunity for residents and community groups to achieve this by sharing information, developing connections, building capacity and developing an understanding of shared activities, commonalities, objectives and goals across their community.

“It is anticipated upon the conclusion of these programs and events, residents will have developed strong connections and will continue to draw on each other’s talents and expertise. The will also be able to apply the skills they have acquired on a larger scale resulting in a strong, resilient connected community that can be sustained well into the future.”

The Scotsburn Community Recovery Committee won a 2017 Resilient Australia Award as a result of its successful Strengthening Community project.

The Awards recognise and promote initiatives that build resilience and inspire others to take action – making communities safer, more connected and better prepared for natural hazards and emergencies. The 2018 Awards are now open and Victorians are encouraged to enter.

Applications are open until 5.00pm on 31 May 2018. For more information and to apply visit resilient.awardsplatform.com (External link)