Recovery Underway Following 2019/2020 Bushfires

Black Summer Bushfire Recovery Disaster recovery stories Insights: 4 March 2021

Many regional and rural communities experienced devastation as a result of the 2019/20 Black Summer fires. The Royal Commission into National Natural Disaster Arrangements reported that more than 24 million hectares were burnt, 33 people died, more than 3,000 homes were destroyed, nearly three billion animals killed or displaced and the estimated national financial impact was more than $10B.

Recovery from these fires will take time, and has been further complicated by COVID-19 restrictions hampering efforts to meet face-to-face, connect, support one-another, plan and implement recovery activities.

Medium-long term support

As many of our friends and network are aware, FRRR has a medium-long term focus when seeking to support communities recovering from natural disasters. The immediate response work is critical, but equally so is ensuring support is available over the long term.

Typically, medium-long term recovery is an underfunded area. For instance, The Center for Disaster Philanthropy’s annual State of Disaster Philanthropy 2020 report notes that only 7% of philanthropic support to disasters globally in 2018 was directed to preparedness, and only 1% to resilience, risk reduction and mitigation. FRRR has observed an increase in the focus on resilience and preparedness in recent years. We remain optimistic about what this might mean for communities and their ability to access funding that enhances their readiness ahead of future events, disruptions and disasters.

Flexible and responsive as needs change

The impacts of the fires will not be the same in any two communities, and for that reason, our grant programs are deliberately broad and flexible – enabling communities to submit requests that fit their needs and their context. By providing grants to not-for-profit organisations to advance their community-identified initiatives, support can be appropriately timed once individual recovery needs are addressed, allowing attention to focus on what support is required in, and across, the community.

Recovery needs across a community change over time. For instance in supporting Black Saturday affected communities since the fires in 2009, FRRR saw community needs evolve through the recovery journey – from the immediacy of emergency relief (food, water, shelter, and medicines), to early recovery (temporary accommodation, children returning to school, adaptation to a ‘new normal’), to medium-to-long-term recovery (rebuilding permanent physical structures, children returning to school buildings, adults having renewed opportunities to improve their livelihoods and local economies began to recover, although there was still significant trauma), and then focus on increasing preparedness for future disasters.

More than 11 years on from those fires, FRRR is currently supporting economic recovery, mental health initiatives and projects to keep young people engaged in school or employment pathways. While the exact needs will vary from community to community, FRRR anticipates that a similar cycle of changing needs over time will be evident in the recovery of the 2019-20 fire affected communities.

Listening, reflecting and responding

We also seek to build upon our practices, iterating our approach with the aim of being responsive to community need. For instance, our Strengthening Rural Communities – Bushfire Recovery program is open all year round, with grants announced quarterly, enabling groups to apply when they are ready. You can see the list of grants we announced in January 2021 here. Keep an eye out for the next round to be announced soon ~ mid March.  

One aspect that we’re currently seeking to improve is the turn-around time between the quarterly grant round ‘closing’ for assessment, and the grants announcement. It’s a fine balance between ensuring a thorough and appropriate assessment and seeking to give community organisations the shortest waiting time possible before they can get started on their project.

We’ve also sought to connect with a range of stakeholders across the sector, listening to the reflections of Bushfire Recovery Coordinators, talking with agencies undertaking vital work in the initial response, and contributing what we’re hearing from communities applying to our programs into forums such as the National Bushfire Recovery Agency’s Charities Roundtable, the Public-Private-Partnerships forum, and convening a group of funders across the Shoalhaven region. Our aim is to be connected across the sector, responsive to feedback, but also squarely focused on ensuring funds are reaching organisations who are well-placed to support their communities.

Where are we now?

In the twelve months since the fires, FRRR has distributed more than $3.6M through 173 grants across Australia. [Update as at 16 March – $4M to 209 projects.] These grants have been made through a number of programs, including FRRR’s Strengthening Rural Communities – Bushfire Recovery program, Back To School – Bushfire Recovery, and in partnership with specific donors such as the Pratt Foundation, Visy, Sony Foundation and News Corp.

Projects have supported 75 different postcodes across Australia, benefiting communities across New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.

Ninety-two of the not-for-profit organisations supported were organisations that are not registered as charities, nor hold DGR endorsement. This means that they’re often unable to access alternative philanthropic support. COVID-19 restrictions and the further layer of economic impact this has had on businesses across our communities, has further affected their ability to fundraise and support their communities.

“Annually we raise approximately $25,000 a year in fundraising to help keep the Kindergarten open, pay staff, pay day to day expenses and purchase resources. Due to the ongoing drought it has become more and more difficult for our strong and resilient little community to help the Kindergarten financially, now with COVID19 we are unable to do any fundraising at all which will reduce our income this year dramatically… Due to the ongoing effects of the drought individuals and businesses in our region are still really battling. If we are able to secure funding for this project we feel that we could help our local community as well as our Kindergarten. We can assist on a broader level by keeping our qualified teaching staff employed. Utilising local tradespeople and businesses to replace the fences, keeping Kindy compliant and open so our 18 Kindergarten children can continue to be educated and their parents can also continue to go to work. “

– FRRR Applicant

Unsurprisingly, in the first twelve months after the fires, almost half (48%) of the grants awarded have focused on investing in infrastructure and equipment, close to a third (30.6%) providing access to services and activities, and 15% in developing awareness, knowledge and skills.

Within the infrastructure space, we’ve seen a large number of grants seeking to upgrade community or public halls (14), investing in emergency service equipment (10), and investing in equipment more generally (11).

“[A neighbouring village] has been decimated by bushfire and fire encircled [our village] for weeks, burning outlying forests and properties. The financial and emotional costs were high, with anxiety and financial stressors made worse by changes in work and school routines and difficulties caring for pets and livestock. This has been a motivating factor for our direction of providing a safe, welcoming and comfortable space for local residents, supporting their wellbeing and encouraging connection and resilience as well as providing an access point for services.”

– FRRR Applicant

The Montreal Community Theatre Inc in NSW received a grant for their 2TVR broadcasting site after they lost their inverter units and attached battery supply during the fires. The grant will enable them to install an emergency backup battery inverter system, and replace the remote broadcast system and transmission equipment after the fires.

We’ve seen a number of communities seeking greater energy security after experiencing a loss of power through the fires – through either solar panels, batteries, or generators.

The Elands Community Health & First Aid Centre Incorporated received a grant to install a reverse cycle air conditioner, and a 10kWa solar system and battery with stand alone capability to enable it to operate during blackouts. Their grant application noted “Offgrid power will allow the Centre to continue to offer essential utilities during times of grid blackouts as well as providing a welcoming place for people to connect and support each other during times of disruption. This includes access to kitchen, bathroom and laundry services, charging phones and access to communication that are not otherwise available to people in their homes during times of disruption.”

Supporting individual’s recovery through arts, community connection and mental health support activities has also been a strong theme, with 14 grants supporting people to participate in social or community activities, 10 supporting mental health across their community, and 7 supporting people to access and engage with the Arts.

“During the conversations many people talked about the effect of running on adrenalin for the months before and after Christmas and the feeling of emptiness that followed. There was no time to come together before the community was once again under threat. The fires had denuded the landscape and when the rains came, many roads and properties were further affected by mudslides. The cleaning up started again. The normal community celebrations were delayed or cancelled as Covid19 forced individual distancing. There needs to be a way of marking closure for this community, most of whom were volunteers in one capacity or another.”

-FRRR Applicant

Examples of two grants made in this space are:

The Great Alpine Gallery Inc in East Gippsland received a grant to undertake video stories for art and recovery. The project aims to teach community members how to use video as a form of artistic expression and provide an opportunity to explore and express responses to drought and bushfire experiences. The $5,908 grant is being directed to film and story telling workshops, post production, editing, equipment rental and screening event.

Salt Care Limited received a grant to support their activities in the Shoalhaven, running three key programs – Man Talk, Coffee and Connect, and Trauma Care to support community members coming together after the fires.

We’ve also seen communities seeking support to undertake land management activities. In Western Australia, for example, we made a grant to the Ngadju Conservation Aboriginal Corporation, who sought support to clear tracks in order to access land for continued Ngadju culture fire practice and protect cultural assets. They told us that thirteen bushfires tore across approximately one million hectares of Ngadju country, and that this funding will allow the Rangers to access significant sites for cultural burning through the hire of heavy machinery to clear existing tracks. It will also allow Rangers to be able to repair and protect cultural sites (including water trees) and allow other Ngadju community members to attend sites and undertake voluntary maintenance and management.

Thank you

Many of you contributed to FRRR seeking to support bushfire affected communities.

Collectively, you contributed over $11M into grant programs and the Disaster Resilience and Recovery Fund now sits at over $4.2M.

Some donated directly to FRRR, knowing of our work and our plans – right across the philanthropic and corporate sectors, some contributed to the Fire Fight Australia Concert where FRRR was the broadcast charity partner, or attended the Down to Earth concert fundraiser, or ran workplace fundraisers, and so much more.

You donated to FRRR’s Disaster Resilience and Recovery Fund, into our Strengthening Rural Communities bushfire recovery program and our Back To School bushfire recovery program. Some also donated and asked us to identify where we thought the funds were most needed.

The depth of generosity we experienced as a nation in many ways reflected how close we all felt to the fires, and the need we all felt in wanting to assist – in whichever way we could. Thank you for your generosity, FRRR is committed to ensuring the funds we grant out to not-for-profit organisations across our bushfire affected communities are right where they are needed, and will be needed as the recovery journey goes on. Our plan is to ensure that funding is available for at least the next four years, through a dedicated Strengthening Rural Communities – Bushfire Recovery program, and then beyond that, through distributed earnings from FRRR’s Disaster Resilience and Recovery Fund.

We’re privileged to read the stories that are shared with us about the challenges communities face, and the impact that the grants you’ve helped us fund have made. We look forward to continuing to update you on the grants as they are made, and to sharing the impact that they create. Please feel free to check our webpage listing each grant round made to support bushfire affected communities, or reach out to us with any questions along the way.

Thank you again for your support.