March 2, 2021
By Mike Ziemerink
Elizabeth and Brian have lived in Wairewa, Victoria for many years. This small farming community in Australia was devastated by the bushfires. It is an area of mixed farming -– beef cattle, sheep and alternative farming practices including extensive lemon groves. Every property in Wairewa was impacted by the fires. Many houses were lost, and the whole community experienced extensive trauma.
The 2019-20 Australian bushfire season was one of the most damaging and intense seasons on record. It is estimated that during this season 20% of Australia’s forests were burnt, surpassing damage seen by fires anywhere else in the world. These fires destroyed almost 6,000 buildings, killed 34 people and affected at least 3 billion animals, believed to drive some species to extinction. Economists have estimated the total cost of the bushfire season will be more than $103 billion (AUD), making it the country’s costliest disaster in history.
When the fires hit, some, including Elizabeth and Brian, stayed to protect their homes. Others evacuated to shelters only to have the shelters then threatened by fire. Elizabeth and Brian’s house survived, however, all their fencing, sheds and yards were destroyed. They run a small farm and so they did not qualify for any major farming grants and because their house survived, they were not eligible for the main Red Cross grant for loss of house.
The couple struggled to get their farm up and running again and did not seek any assistance. The Anglican Diocese of Gippsland noticed that they had not received any other federal grants and reached out. Soon Brian and Elizabeth received an Anglican Board of Mission (ABM) bushfire grant that helped them rebuild their fencing and work toward getting their farm running again.
Thanks to generous donors, PWRDF was able to raise more than $38,810 to respond to the disaster. These donations were forwarded to the ABM, PWRDF’s Australian counterpart and fellow member of the Anglican Alliance. In addition to the funds sent from PWRDF, ABM also received donations from Anglican agencies in New Zealand, the Philippines, the United States, Vanuatu, the Solomon Islands and Japan, as well as from within Australia.
PWRDF worked with ABM and its partners on the ground to quickly distribute funds to Anglican dioceses in bushfire-affected areas of Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia. Anglican partners responded by distributing seeds to replant crops that were burnt and helping to rebuild infrastructure. Funds were also used to rebuild community gardens, distribute pre-paid Visa cards and organize trauma counselling for those affected.
The work to rebuild and prevent future tragedies in Australia is ongoing. Since the fires, much of the recovery work has been put on hold due to COVID-19. Small businesses affected by the fires were forced to close due to the pandemic, but restrictions are now being lifted. Thanks to the generosity of Anglicans around the world, families affected by this disaster have been provided with the support they need as they work to rebuild their lives.