Last year, March 2018, a fire devastated south-west Victoria—ripping through Gazette, Garvoc, Terang, and Gnotuk--wherein over 18,000 Ha of prime dairy farmland got caught including 56 dwellings, 3,000km of fencing, and about 1,000 heads of dairy livestock, making this the worst fire conditions of the season. 7,000 tons of fodder were also destroyed, to which was replenished by generous donations. The first to respond were the emergency services from all over the state including the Country Fire Authority (CFA), State Emergency Services (SES), Forest Fire Management Victoria (FFM VIC), Metropolitan Fire Brigade (MFB), Victoria Police, and Ambulance Victoria. While relief agencies including Australian Red Cross, Victorian Council of Churches, Salvation Army, and local council, and health services immediately put up relief centres for more than 800 people who needed help, guidance, and support.
After the catastrophe, the community and dairy industry organisations rallied to show support for those who were affected. According to WestVic Dairy’s Dairy Recovery Coordinator, Helen Chenoweth, some farmers are attempting to restore their properties on their own recognizing them as a ‘tough bunch’.
Efforts to help farmers and those affected are continuously provided. Grants were made available by the government and other organisations. For instance, WestVic Dairy and Agriculture Victoria are offering one-on-one advice on pasture recovery as well as fodder budgeting to further hasten recovery. Additionally, the region delivered Occasional Counsellor workshops wherein simple and practical strategies are taught to assist farmers.
Having “others are worse off” mentality, service providers aim to help farmers’ mental health and provide emotional support. And based on the ongoing workshops, those who participated shared that through this effort, they gained confidence in discussing sensitive topics.
Aside from these, a Community Relief Fund was launched by Emergency Management Victoria in partnership with Bendigo Bank. The Fund supports communities affected by the fires which destroyed homes and farmlands. It allowed the public to donate money directly through a formal channel. Bendigo Bank branches and network are in-charge with the collection and distribution of the funds donated. Other banks like Cobden and Camperdown Community Bank also participated in this project by providing an initial of 5,000AUD into each Community Relief Fund.