Insights from the bush

Insights: 28 May 2021

“The last 14-15 months have been a surreal and challenging time for our community. We are definitely in the recovery stage and hope to move into the rebuild stage in the next 12 months. During this time, the importance of our hall has been highlighted through community feedback and attendance. It’s the glue that binds and connects us and we want to ensure it is improved and still standing for the community in years to come due to it’s critical importance in our rural and remote village that has experienced such loss since the firestorms in November 2019.”

Community leader
FRRR and donor partners hearing directly from community leaders, sitting around a table chatting.

Every day, our team connects virtually and over the phone with leaders in communities around the country. More recently, some of us have been able to get out into communities and have face-to-face conversations. There are certainly many common themes coming through, particularly about volunteer fatigue and the general lack of volunteers. In other places, better seasons and the return of tourism is lifting spirits and driving vitality.

However, along with the positive effects of the sea-change and tree-change to regional communities, prompted by COVID-19, we’ve also heard that there is also an increase in extreme housing stress from a supply and affordability side. It’s also dramatically increased homelessness and put pressure on local service providers. Business are also finding it harder to find staff, as locals move further afield to find affordable housing, and those who have moved in continue to be employed in the cities. The housing stress is also creating a crisis in attracting healthcare workers.

Below is a snapshot of trends around the country.


  • NSW continues to feel some of the harshest impacts of the changing climate, experiencing both ongoing drought and widespread floods through the third quarter. In these situations, social connections are often not prioritised in the interests of managing safety and physiological needs, leading to social isolation. Ongoing COVID-19 uncertainty has also meant that many events are still on hold, further rweakening community connection. However, there is still strong demand for grants to ensure there are appropriate and useful places for gatherings and events when the time is right. This is reflected in the increasing levels of grant distributions for community resilience.


  • As community groups cautiously attempt to return to pre-COVID-19 activities, the disruption to fundraising over the past 12 months is regularly cited by community groups, with philanthropic grants relied upon to meet fundraising shortfalls.
  • The ageing population and the impact this has on their volunteer workforce is emerging as an increasingly significant issue. In light of COVID-19, people are less confident to volunteer, and in some cases groups are unable to secure insurance for older volunteers.  Additionally, fundraising limitations as a result of COVID-19 have exacerbated pressures for volunteer led groups, although some groups are enthused with new energy as younger volunteers take up the reigns. In these cases, there is a need to build capability and upskill these people.


  • In the Northern Territory, the gap between what government funds and the actual costs to effectively deliver programs and services is frequently being nominated by applicants as their greatest challenge. With larger ($25,000) SRC grants offered to remote communities during the quarter, there has been an increased volume of NT grant applicants.

Tasmania and South Australia

  • Bringing people together to foster stronger communities remains a priority, and requests demonstrated an increased focus on promoting connection to place and social wellbeing. With community groups in Tasmania and South Australia demonstrating increased confidence to plan and deliver activities within their communities, applicants continued to seek funds to address gaps and leverage opportunities at a local level.
  • Across both States there was an increase in both enquiries and applications from First Nations organisations, seeking to deliver projects supporting reconciliation and healing. Applicants emphasised the importance of securing funds to promote reconnection to country, culture and history between elders and younger generations, along with enhancing community identity and wellbeing.


  • The snap COVID-19 lockdown in mid-February was felt acutely in rural and regional communities. In meetings with community organisations, conversations highlighted the subsequent destabilisation and loss in confidence in planning projects, particularly events.
  • Although a high level of uncertainty remains, grant requests demonstrate a strong commitment to providing support at a local level, particularly for those community members who are under resourced and most vulnerable. 
  • There has also been a significant increase in organisations requesting information regarding grant opportunities to support volunteer efforts in bushfire affected communities, both for recovery activities and general community capacity building projects.

Bushfire recovery research

  • Over FRRR’s 21 years, we’ve learnt that it can take years to recover from a natural disaster. We are still supporting communities recovering from the 2009 Black Saturday Bushfires in Victoria. So we know that ongoing, accessible, flexible and timely support remains important for grant-seekers over the longer term, particularly as communities move into the medium and longer-term recovery process where other funding has often been exhausted.
  • One of the key insights in the recently released ’10 Years Beyond Bushfires’ report by Melbourne University was a need to shift to a medium to long term recovery lens. This echoes FRRR’s experience, seen most recently with few donations to support recovery from the devastating NSW floods and WA fires. These disasters occurring in such short succession, following the Black Summer fires and ongoing drought, point to both the impacts of climate change on rural communities, and to the need to shift the approach to responding to natural disasters as one-off events but rather a constant, and with a focus on strengthening resilience and local and regional capacity to plan, respond, and adapt. It was this insight that led FRRR to establish the Disaster Resilient:Future Ready program and more recently the Disaster Resilience Recovery Fund, to ensure FRRR can support community recovery, long after the event. You can read more in this article from Natalie Egleton.