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Increasing resilience in Mudgegonga
After eight years, Andrew Cross has moved from being Mudgegonga captain to Ovens Valley group officer.
Like so many CFA leaders, his testing time was February 2009 when the 33,000-hectare Beechworth-Mudgegonga complex hit the township under a north-westerly and “took us apart” leading to the death of two locals.
“There was nothing we could do,” said Andrew. “We had to sit on the periphery. There were huge stock losses and 20 homes gone affecting nine little communities.”
From an experience of powerlessness, those nine communities have built resilience and togetherness. Significant funds received from the Red Cross’s Victorian Bushfire Appeal were used to form the Into Our Hands Foundation. That money was then channelled into major projects with at least one member from each community involved in decision-making.
“We had $217,000 to put 55,000-litre water tanks and bores into seven communities lacking static water and out in the landscape where we had good access,” continued Andrew. “We’ve now got a half-million-litre capacity in strategic locations.
“We wanted to protect remnant trees and are also replanting. It’s landscape design for the future with the brigade taking an advocacy role. The emphasis is on beautifying but not creating a fire hazard, with no eucalypts on access and egress roads.”
A memorial quilting project assembled numerous quilt squares (pictured) sewn by people of all ages to illustrate in thread that the communities are not alone. Finally, a community-strengthening project has provided amenities for women and first-aid facilities at the Dederang Recreation Reserve.
Meanwhile, leftover funds are gathering interest for additional community projects in the long term. In 2014, 19 projects were funded to the tune of $123,748. Some of this money supplemented a VESEP grant and funded Mudgegonga brigade’s new training/meeting room.
There are now also five UHF radio hubs in houses across the district with a rollcall every Wednesday in summer.
“We now have contact with just about everyone in the valley,” said Andrew. “If it’s a bad day, people can let us know if they’re leaving.”
The fire brigades have thrived in the fire’s wake.
“We live in a fire-affected community and everyone should be involved whether it’s radios, logistics or planning,” said Andrew. “Twenty people have gone through Minimum Skills in our brigade since 2009. We’re trying different things all the time in training. I call it the non-blinkered approach.
“The Bogong and Ovens Valley groups have trained people for the local command facility who weren’t previously in brigades and they’re now part of our summer fire response.
“If you’re prepared, you’re halfway on the way to being resilient. People now know what’s going on and because they know they’re more ready to bounce back.
“People in the bush share a lot of common interests such as native wildlife and vegetation. Now we’ve all met people we didn’t know before and there are a lot more people rowing the boat in the same direction.”