Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal (FRRR)

The Volunteer Marine Rescue (VMR) NSW service has offices along the NSW coast and operate a 24-hour volunteer crew to monitor the UHF maritime channel and be ready to respond to vessels in distress. During the 2019/20 Black Summer bushfires, this organisation continued to operate until power went down and volunteers joined with other local emergency services to support an initial evacuation of locals, neighbouring inland communities and tourists in the surrounds.

The Volunteer Emergency Services Fund was an FRRR program focussed on recognising the critical role that local first responders play in the lives of communities, not just in times of disaster, but every day. Funds were available solely for these groups to support their volunteers, enhance facilities or meet equipment needs to ensure future preparedness. For the VMR Bermagui branch, this opportunity aligned to the need to upgrade their facilities to enhance operations.

The Bermagui crew is ideally based in the Wharf precinct of the popular fishing and boating town on the south coast of NSW, however the office set up was not fit to enable effective training and radio monitoring to occur simultaneously. Their original application requested funding to refurbish the internal layout of the building to install a floor to ceiling glass partition to create two separate and fully operational rooms, with new training equipment, air conditioner and a generator. However, they secured alternative funding to cover the building costs, which allowed them to increase the scope of their project.

A variation was approved to allow VMR Bermagui to use the $24,933 FRRR grant, funded by the Lachlan and Sarah Murdoch Foundation, to purchase an air conditioner, generator, three trestle tables, 16 ergonomic chairs, whiteboard, wall cork board, refrigerator, microwave, desktop computer, printer, and software and security packages.

The electrical power generator means the base can now operate as a search and rescue coordination centre (SARCC) during times of emergency and/or crisis. During the 2019/20 Black Summer bushfires, the base couldn’t operate after 24 hours as all power in Bermagui was shut down, and their battery back-up system only had the capability of 24 hours emergency operation.

The upgrade has created a fit-for-purpose facility that now meets their operational requirements and has already benefited a range of people. At its broadest, it has, and will continue to, benefit anyone who is holidaying in or passing through Bermagui waters who uses the waters for boating, recreational fishing or requires some form of assistance on the waters. Importantly for the purpose of this grant program, a key benefit is for the current volunteers and all those who will take on that role in the future.

The new spaces include a quiet radio room, with zero background noise to radio transmissions, and capacity to hold training / meetings and discussions simultaneously, as noise interference is now better managed, and the facility has greater capacity to meet future requirements. 

VMR Bermagui’s Grants Officer, Ian Grieg, commented: “Overall, the executive is most proud that we now have a fully capable, modern and well equipped facility that meets our operational needs today, but extends to meeting the communities needs in the future. The facility has a welcoming feel when members of the public come into the facility to interact with us on all matters boating. Additionally, we feel proud that the FRRR and the National Emergency Management Agency’s Black Summer Bushfire Recovery Grant supported us so willingly and had trust in us to deliver such a project to the community and our membership.”

An innovative program drawing on the personal experience of its founder’s family is making an impact on veterans and current service personnel in Queensland’s Lockyer Valley.

Bootstraps is a volunteer-operated charity that runs a drop-in recovery centre for former service personnel who may be having difficulties connecting with family or society at large. Given the proximity of the RAAF Base at Amberley, Army Aviation at Oakey and Signals Regiment at Cabarlah, and with RSL Sub-Branches dotted through the Lockyer Valley, the organisation is well-located to offer this support.

President and founder of Bootstraps, Sam Kavanagh, was taught leatherworking by his father, who was in the air force and practised this craft as a kind of therapy. Building on this, as part of its offering, Bootstraps runs a leatherworking program to facilitate reconnection and social interaction. Ex-service personnel, current serving personnel and their families take priority, but space allowing, the program is open is open to anyone in the community.

The organisation needed some equipment to deliver the program and applied to FRRR for funding for an industrial leather sewing machine and a new computer, which they received in the form of a $5,407 Strengthening Rural Communities grant, funded by The Sylvia & Charles Viertel Charitable Foundation.

The computer replaced a small inefficient laptop and enhances the organisation’s day-to-day communications and planning, while the sewing machine supports every level of the Bootstraps leatherwork training program. The model chosen is capable of being hand-cranked, which facilitates use by veterans with lower limb disabilities in particular, and those confined to a wheelchair.

The grant application noted, “There are not many (if any) families in the Lockyer Valley that do not have a military and/or a horse connection that could benefit from the leatherwork activities run by Bootstraps.”

Bootstrap’s new leather sewing machine

At the time of reporting, Bootstraps noted that more than 250 patrons have used the Bootstraps facilities, including the new leather sewing machine. The new IT facilities have meant better access and clearer information is available to the public about the program, via a more responsive and efficient website and communications.

These important pieces of equipment will help the program’s participants further their craft, while enabling social connection and helping veterans and the general community remain in a good head-space.

In 1979, an idea was formed between a bunch of country music loving mates over a few drinks around a campfire in the south west of WA. It became the Country Music Club of Boyup Brook (CMCBB), and before long, they were putting on a show on a regular basis.

Since 1986, the Boyup Brook Country Music Festival has been a major drawcard for this small farming community, attracting more than 10,000 visitors. The CMCBB does a lot more than put musicians on a stage though – there is a strong commitment to upskilling and training it’s volunteers and trainees in all aspects of event planning, including administration, bookkeeping, budgeting, grant writing, event management and office procedures, supporting them to gain financial literacy and job readiness skills. This benefits a core group of 20 volunteers that contribute to pre-planning throughout the year, and 150 during the Festival weekend. The Festival also provides the main fundraising event for more than 36 local community groups that participate during the weekend.

A couple of bad years recently set the club back: in 2017, flooding required the festival to be relocated; and in 2018 the club was hit by a sophisticated ticket scamming operation. On top of all this, the IT equipment available to the group was ageing and unreliable, often freezing unpredictably. Two of the computers were classed as ‘vintage’ by Apple, and the club said they could take a “very long time before they decide to boot up and one makes a noise like crickets are in the building.” This hurdle was adversely affecting the efficiencies and upskilling of the core group volunteers, not to mention the security of ticket sales and smooth running of the festival. But the tough luck the Club had run into had affected their capacity to invest in new equipment.

Daly and Sharon Winter, CMCBB’s President and Music Director, say the Festival helps a small rural community build a vibrant and sustainable community.

“It has wider audience appeal with a multiplier effect for injecting new capital into the local economy, and improves financial well-being within our community. The Festival is a celebration of our country lifestyles and community spirit. The event encourages hundreds of visitors to our state, providing a great boost to our tourism.”

Through the ANZ Seeds of Renewal program, the Club was successful in gaining new equipment. Via the Lenovo stream of the program, the Club was delivered three new Lenovo Thinkpads to support the events future operations, productivity and skill development of the group and volunteers.

The Club also plans to train staff and volunteers to scan, edit, and save photographs and documents to preserve its history as one of the oldest Incorporated Country Music Clubs in Australia and Western Australia.

Some of the volunteers use the equipment throughout the year, and under the guidance of the committee a young employee of the club recently completed her Certificate II and III in Business, plus Event Management modules. In their report, the Club wrote: “Learning new skills through the Club has led past volunteers to new employment options and keeps people living within our rural town and region.”

Nicki Jones, a volunteer, was ecstatic when the new laptops arrived, and with them, she says she achieved much more than she anticipated. 

“Not only were they efficient, user friendly and supported current applications, they had a webcam and sound!  This might initially sound silly, but in the big picture, this allowed me to join webinars and learn new software packages and how to use the computer to better capacity. I found one of the new software packages extremely useful and have now produced several documents with it for the Club. These documents are up to date, professional and easy to read.”

The experience and access to technology, she said, has built her self-esteem and confidence, and she has since been successful in seeking full-time employment, bringing her new skills to her position.

“I cannot thank FRRR and ANZ enough for making life so much easier.”