In the Summer of 2019-20, communities around Australia were ravaged as bushfires raced through many parts of the country, leaving heartbreak in their wake.
The Snowy Valley’s region was among the worst hit, by the now-infamous Dunn’s Road Fire, which raged over 350,000 hectares, saw 360 pieces of equipment deployed and sadly, consumed 192 homes.
Given the scale of the disaster, it is not surprising that, nearly 18 months on, the region’s first responder families and residents are still deep in the midst of rebuilding, both the physical landscape and their own spirits.
However, in true bush spirit, the town of Adelong recently became the centre of that recovery, by hosting a Family Fun Day, as a way of thanking all those who contributed to maintaining the nearly 2500-kilometre control perimeter around the fire – efforts that saved around 800 homes.
Fortem Australia’s Catherine Donnan and Genevieve Lindsay were on-the-ground at the Family Day, chatting with locals and handing out free coffees.
All up, it’s estimated that around 500 people attended the event, some of them traveling over two-hours to be there.
RFS District Manager for Riverina Highlands, Jon Gregory, says he was not surprised by success of the event, as it was sorely-needed in the community.
“It’s impossible to overstate the impact that the fires had on people in our region – I mean, it was just a massive event and most of us will remember it for the rest of our lives, frankly,” Jon says.
“In terms of dealing with the psychological trauma, usually our brigades would have opportunities to debrief after a major incident like this – you meet up, talk through what happened and check in on your mates.
“However, with COVID coming in right after the fire, people didn’t get that opportunity to get stuff off their chest and I think that added to the burden they were carrying.
“With all our local shows and events cancelled, this Family Day was really important – it meant that everyone could get together have a bit of a yarn and reflect on what had occurred.”
The need for social support in the Snowy Valleys and wider region was clear on the day, with attendees travelling from communities including Temora, Hay, Deniliquin, Harden, Young and Cootamundra.
Local Darlow RFS brigade member, Jess Reynolds, says the event was beneficial to a lot of locals – many of whom just needed closure following the fires.
“I think a lot of the community just wanted to thank all the people involved in the fires, and they haven’t really had that opportunity,” Jess says.
“It was just one of those things where it seemed like the timing was right to get everyone together to say thanks.
“I’ve spoken to quite a few people and the feedback has been terrific – a lot of healing came out of this event I think.”
The event ran into the night and was fully catered, a free coffee van by Fortem Australia, two live bands, a number of jumping castles and night-time fireworks were all part of the fun.
Event sponsors included Fortem Australia, the Rural Fire Service Association and Snowy Valleys Council. Thanks to all who came and supported the day.
To get involved in upcoming Fortem events check our Wellbeing Activities Calendar, you’ll also find mental health resources for first responders and their families in the Fortem Resource Library and via Peak Fortem. Fortem Australia also offers psychology support for eligible first responders and family members. Call 1300 33 95 94 to find out more.