Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal

The town of Strathewen located in the north-west of Victoria was one of the many communities impacted by the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires, the aftermath of which left a huge impression on the local community. There is no quick fix solution for a community when it comes to recovering from a natural disaster, and after nine years, Strathewen is still in the process of doing so.

The team at Arthurs Creek Strathewen CFA noticed that students at the local primary school were suffering post-traumatic stress after Black Saturday. Parents had been reporting that their children had been experiencing high levels of anxiety and panic attacks. This prompted the CFA to develop what is now the Strathewen Primary School Fire Awareness Program. The program is designed to support local students and help build their confidence around fire safety and preparedness.

To support this initiative, the CFA was given a $15,730 grant from the Grants for Resilience and Wellness program funded by Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund. The program was held weekly. Students were given the opportunity to discuss fire safety plans, evacuation strategies, and fire danger ratings. This positive learning experience equipped the students with the ability to teach others and to take their knowledge into their adult years concerning bush and fire safety.

At the end of the program, a picture story book was created that participants of the program could take home and share with their families. A behind the scenes making of the book was also produced with the help of the Strathewen Bushfire Relief Trust. Parents reported after the Fire Awareness Program, their children’s confidence levels improved significantly and that anxiety levels decreased.

This built on a previous program run by the Strathewen CFA for kids in the community. The previous project funded, called ‘Survive and Thrive’ allowed the children at the school to make a Claymation video about fire safety and fire danger ratings. It was an invaluable way to teach the kids about how to stay safe in a fire, and to understand what the fire danger ratings mean, and the project won the ‘2017 Resilient Australia’ award for Victoria, in the education division.

Recovery from bushfires is an ongoing process but grants like these provide opportunities for communities to heal.