The efforts of Bega Valley Shire Council (BVSC) to work with its community as it moved through the long journey of bushfire recovery has achieved national recognition.
The 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires decimated the region. There are still 143 clients of council’s recovery support service living in temporary accommodation on their fire-impacted properties.
But council’s efforts to help residents has been recognised with its Bushfire Recovery, Rebuilding and Resilience Program the winner of the NSW Local Government category in the Resilient Australia Awards.
The program is now in the running for the national award against local government winners from the other states and territories.
“Most importantly, the award recognises council’s commitment to walk alongside the community through what is a long and challenging journey for recovery,” Recovery, Rebuilding and Resilience project lead Chris Horsburgh said.
“It recognises the way council stepped up, including any council staff who were impacted by the bushfires themselves.”
He said the award was for the work done by council in a range of areas of bushfire support. For instance, a range of infrastructure was damaged or destroyed, from roads to halls, and a massive amount of work was required to restore them.
Council has also worked to help fire-impacted residents. About 1900 people registered at the recovery centre for immediate support and council continues to work with about 1300.
Mr Horsburgh said some residents have only recently been stepping forward to ask for support, including some that said they had been going okay but that issues had compounded over time.
“Recovery is a long and challenging journey. It’s an individual journey for people, depending on what level of impact they experienced during the fires,” he said.
“An important factor is what issues were in their lives before the fires. Those everyday challenges didn’t go away, they just got added to by the bushfires.”
The council’s mayor Russell Fitzpatrick, said the shire had been the most disaster-impacted in the state over the past few years.
The Tathra and district, Yankees Gap and Black Summer bushfires, as well as multiple flooding events and the COVID-19 pandemic challenged those that call the Bega Valley home at an unprecedented level.
“It is in the most difficult circumstances that a community’s character and strength is put to the ultimate test, and what has been achieved here is nothing short of remarkable,” Mayor Fitzpatrick said.
“We certainly still have a long way to go in our collective recovery journey, however recognition such as this reaffirms we are on the right track.”
While the Bega Valley is fast approaching the second anniversary of the Black Summer fires, Mr Horsburgh confirmed council’s bushfire support program will continue to deliver help and advocate for residents’ needs into the future.
“We recognise there are needs the community and residents will be working on over some time,” he said.
The Resilient Australia Awards celebrate and promote initiatives that build whole-of-community resilience to disasters and emergencies around Australia.