Picton is 80 kilometres south-west of Sydney in the Wollondilly Local Government Area. It is part of the broader communities of Buxton and Balmoral that were badly affected by the Black Summer bushfires (Green Wattle Fire).
Kerrie O’Grady is the president of the Picton District Branch of Country Women’s Association (CWA) of NSW. Kim Hill is a Rural Fire Service volunteer. Together, the two friends set-up a Community Recovery Hub in the small Balmoral Village Hall to manage the donations that flooded in after the bushfires.
“Initially, we had a donation of $5,000 worth of fruit on Christmas Eve – after a while we got to the point where the fruit needed to be turned into jam,” Kerrie said.
“So I just sent a message out to the CWA ladies that I needed jam makers – many branches put their hands up and turned the excess fruit into jam and banana bread and muffins which we then handed out to people as much needed food… The ladies from the CWA just gave it their all.”
When Kerrie started running the Community Recovery Hub with Kim, she knew it was going to be a big task.
“But I knew I had the CWA behind me,” she said.
“The branch I am in has extremely well-educated, highly skilled, and very capable women. They might be retired but their brains haven’t stopped. I knew I could draw on those skills to help Kim, to help me, to help people at the Hub.”
Kerrie said one of the main benefits of the CWA is the networking capability. Many of the women had husbands that ran or volunteered for Rotary, Lions, and the local Men’s Sheds and this allowed them to reach more volunteer services.
“The fact that we could just stretch our hands and fingers out and grab these people when and where we needed them. That’s community,” she said.
Kerrie and Kim brought the Bargo Men’s Shed on board.
“They came and took over our tools and hardware section for us, which was a real bonus, Kerrie said. “They’d go ferreting and find what the local guys needed, so that to me is also community.”
“Not only did this help us, but it also gave the local men a place to come and talk with other men and not only about tools. This greatly assisted their mental wellbeing.”
Kerrie said the other thing that worked well was the cooperation between agencies. All the supporting agencies – Red Cross, Anglicare, Salvation Army, Service NSW, Lions Club, and Rotary – would all come to the hub on the days it was open.
“This meant all of the victims could just go to one place. They parked their car, had a cup of tea, they were able to talk to all these agencies at the one time, in the one place where they felt comfortable, safe and supported.”
Kerrie and Kim set-up a registration system which listed all the agencies and all the services that were available. This system allowed victims to see what was available and what they could access. If there were new grants available, then this would be added to the system and it allowed the Recovery Hub to ensure people got everything they were entitled to.
“Many of them would walk in the door and say ‘what do I have to do today, who have I got to see’ and because we knew them, and we had the registration system we would say you haven’t seen Lions yet and you may qualify for the Lions help or a new government grant,” Kerrie explained.
The CWA is still involved in supporting victims of the bushfires across several NSW towns.
“A couple of our local ladies are quilters and they wanted to get their quilts to people who had lost everything. So the word soon spread to other quilting groups who also wanted to help and we have received hundreds of quilts from all across NSW and Far North Queensland. So far, we have handed out 300 home-made quilts and I still have a hundred in storage.”
The quilts were made to wrap people with love and provide some comfort.
Personal and financial recovery assistance is available for individuals, small businesses and primary producers. Visit our ‘Recovery support’ page for more information.