Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal

On Waveroo Country

The exquisite Bruarong Community Centre, on the site of the old Bruarong School, serves as a hub for the people of this tiny hamlet situated on the road between Yackandandah and Myrtleford in Victoria’s High Country. The Community Centre plays an important role within the small community, which is 314 km from Melbourne. It is both a place to prepare and for emergency response, and thanks to upgrades that followed the 2009 Victorian bushfires, it is now a designated Safer Place, and a potential base for fire-fighters to rest and recuperate during emergency response.

It’s also a place for people to meet and gather, to create a sense of place and a sense of belonging. After 2009, the Community Centre’s management committee recognised that despite the bushfires it was an opportunity to strengthen community engagement, enhance the understanding of the history of the area and create an inviting community resource for Bruarong, Hillsborough, Sutton, Tunnel Gap and Back Creek residents. Initially upgrades to the building and access to water supply for bushfires were achieved. They had an underlying goal to help reduce social isolation, as well as enhance the hall, both visually and acoustically.

They sought a grant through the Grants for Resilience and Wellness program, funded by the Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund, which so many members of the public contributed to, following the fires. The funding would help them to research, digitise appropriate images, and produce a series of historical panels to be displayed permanently in the Bruarong Community Centre, thereby also enhancing the amenity of the hall.

They secured a grant of $9,750 and the five-person sub-committee set about implementing their carefully staged community development project. The original plan was to collect images and objects to be displayed in the Hall during a community morning tea designed to introduce the concept and get people talking and remembering stories. However, COVID intervened and instead, they moved to digital invitations and word of mouth. There was still strong buy-in from the community and so they set about gathering information, approaching long-standing families to be involved and share histories through images, objects, supporting documents and some oral histories. This was the first of the collaborative elements of the project, with many people and groups from across the community, many of whom provided letters of support for the project, engaged in research and capturing the unique stories. Several open days were held, inviting the community for a cuppa and to come and share their stories and images. Resourcing this project also included local areas e.g., loan of recording equipment from neighbouring Stanley Community Centre.

Then it was time to decide what was to be displayed and exactly what panels would be most appropriate to achieve their goals. Attention turned to the text and graphics, including photography, scanning and digitisation. This was undertaken by the volunteer committee collectively reviewing all the information and images. A curator and graphic artist assisted to ensuring a high-quality product was achieved.

While COVID impacted the delivery of the project, the efforts of many over more than 18 months came together with the official opening of the exhibition and reveal of the panels at a community event. Various groups visited the Community Centre to view the interpretative panels including local Men’s Shed Groups, Individual families joining together and historical societies. This provided an opportunity for socialisation during COVID

According to Heather Hillas, Project Leader, the Centre now has gorgeous interpretive panels, charting the history of this area, from the indigenous history up to current day including Thillangananga, Sutton and now Bruarong.

“Bruarong Community members, past and present reconnected and reminisced, sharing the positivity of the day, in addition to poring over the detail of the panels. It was very special to welcome back families who had supported the Bruarong Primary School and worked so hard to create the Community Centre when the Bruarong School closed. The current committee is conscious of maintaining the Centre in trust for our present and future community,” she wrote.

This is a valuable resource for ongoing connection. With the support of further funding from FRRR, the collection of over 10,000 images, family stories and articles are being collated and digitised for the local Yackandandah, Beechworth, Myrtleford and Victorian State Libraries. Further funding has been resourced from Saluting Our Service. This has enabled development of an interpretive panel through research into World War I and II service people and the refurbishment of the Honour Boards. This history will be included in the digitalised collection. Following this, a Bruarong History book is the next project on their agenda, which is also being supported by FRRR. In addition, further open days for the community are planned so people can view the interpretive panels and join together in friendship. Engagement with the community is a priority and is growing, signifying the continuing strength and resilience of this community.

For more inspiring stories like this, head to our FY 2021/22 Annual Review.