Bunyip bushfire battlers cleaning up the community

Produced by Jack Morgan and Jordy Wright.

Afrim Rakip's hay-shed perished by the blaze. (Image: Afrim Rakip)

Over two months ago, a bushfire tore through 15,000 hectares of houses and farmland in Bunyip North. Known for its proximity to Gumbuya World and its state park, the small community is left to rebuild from ash and charcoal. Some were lucky to save their house but sacrificed their livestock and fences. Others were left with nothing.

Among the 30 homes and 67 outbuildings destroyed, overlooked was the 600km of incinerated fence line. That’s just short of the distance from Melbourne to Adelaide. Without fences, there’s no space for livestock. Some farmers are still recovering from the shock. Some have lost their livelihood.

The clean-up for fences alone is expected to take five months. To assemble the fences, Blaze Aid volunteers will work free of charge – one of the many signs of community strength.

“It’s bitter sweet but brings the community together, there’s no doubt about it. And shows you the amount of kind people there are.” – Bunyip North resident Tony Fitzgerald

View of the destruction on Afrim Rakips property (Image: Afrim Rakip)

Fences aren’t all the community is helping out with. The Tonimbuk Fire Recovery Centre is made up of volunteers who are working to attend the needs of the community. Most of their resources are spent cleaning up houses and properties, sometimes supplying hay for livestock, sometimes chainsawing fallen trees.

“If we’ve got a barbecue going, we find that people come and sit and talk which is the most important thing. The ongoing need is to talk about your experiences,” said Shirley Higman, president of the Cranbourne Lion’s Club Internet Branch.

The Tonimbuk Fire Recovery Centre at Tonimbuk Hall (Image: Jordy Wright and Jack Morgan)

“You get to a stage where people start getting tired. And the emotional stress builds up. And the stress of trying to get things done in very difficult circumstances. This is about the time where people really really feel it, and you have to get over that. So I would say morale is low at the moment. Certainly low with the volunteers.

“It’s been forgotten in the media. It was forgotten very quickly. It was forgotten when there were only nine houses lost.”

Higman says most of the volunteers were victims of the Black Saturday fires 10  years ago. With the clean-up expected to take a year, they’re still in need of more people. “They’re not a dependent type of community. That’s been one reason why it’s been a bit slow, because those people have been slow to ask for help.”

Alan Blackwell, 82-year-old founder of the Tonimbuk Fire Recovery Centre, remembers bushfires from when he was a kid. From fighting fires on Ash Wednesday to starting up the recovery center after Black Saturday, he’s seen it all.

“There’s no bosses. If you get a boss, well that causes problems,” Blackwell said. “It’s about trying to keep everyone working together, and keeping everybody happy.”

The volunteer group had to create the Tonimbuk Fire Recovery Centre without any money. Despite this, Blackwell said one of the most difficult things is finding volunteers. “A lot of people still don’t know we are here. It’s a big area. We’re battling on.”

Alan Blackwell working to get the portable ready to hold chainsaw workshops for locals and volunteers. (Image: Jordy Wright and Jack Morgan)


The Tonimbuk Fire Recovery Centre is open seven days a week. To volunteer contact Shirley Higman 0411 231 650 or the Bunyip Bushfire Recovery Facebook Page.

To volunteer with BlazeAid, contact the Camp Coordinator, John Anderson on 0412 382 184 or register at www.blazeaid.com.au.  

It is normal to have strong emotional or physical reactions following a distressing event. If you or anyone you know is experiencing distress, lifeline provides a nationwide crisis support services–24/7, please call 13 11 14 or visit lifeline.org.au.






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