The spring and summer of 2019/20 saw Australia ravaged by huge bushfires from Queensland through to South Australia, with some of the greatest impact occurring in the region covered by St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/Goulburn (SVDP-CG). Within the Canberra/Goulburn region, over 1000 homes were destroyed, along with numerous outbuildings (often the basis for income), farm fencing and livestock, and community facilities. Although no statistics are available for the number of people who lost jobs and/or income as a direct result of the fires or for those who suffered mental trauma, the Society is aware that these were very significant numbers. Many, including those who did not lose property, also suffered mental trauma as the result of uncertainty and evacuation (sometimes repeatedly).
As did each region of the Society, Canberra/Goulburn became engaged in assisting those impacted even as the fires raged around them. The initial response was generated by those Conferences located in the bushfire affected regions, with the provision of food, clothing, temporary accommodation and empathy. When it quickly became apparent that the volume and nature of the need would soon overwhelm our local members, a Bushfire Taskforce of Canberra-based members was convened to assist.
The Vinnies Bushfire Appeal opened in late 2019 in response to the bushfires raging in northern NSW (New South Wales) and was later expanded to a national appeal to support communities across Queensland, NSW, the ACT, Victoria and South Australia that were impacted by the Black Summer Bushfires. The appeal raised $25.9 million from donations from the public, businesses and philanthropists. That money was distributed to each of the Society’s state and territory councils.
The plan of the bushfire response in the Canberra/Goulburn region was modelled on the approach adopted by the NSW region of the Society, with the details modified according to Canberra/Goulburn’s particular needs and capabilities. The NSW approach consisted of three elements: emergency relief, a Community Grants Program and a Community Development Program, to which SVDP-CG added a Sanitation Facilities Program.