Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Life is not a bed of roses but we continue to move ahead

I was reminded over the weekend and through feedback via the blog that life is still very tough for the people of Flowerdale. To put it in perspective, 221 of 350 houses were destroyed. Many of the houses that weren’t destroyed were badly damaged by fire or have been affected by huge amounts of soot or have structural damage and create difficulties for those living there.

On top of that there is the process of dealing with insurance companies, keeping up to date with the various government agencies, applying for grants and trying to get some normality back in life.

To date only a handful of blocks have been cleared and the rubble left in the aftermath of the fire is a stark reminder of what people have lost.

Many people are living in caravans or tents on their blocks, have moved in with others whose properties weren’t destroyed or have arranged some other temporary accommodation. A number of people are living outside the area. Many don’t have power, running water or cooking facilities. None of these situations is ideal. With winter approaching things need to be bedded down because it gets very cold.

It is not clear how long it will take before sites are cleared, how long it will take to get permits to rebuild, what recommendations will come out from the interim report of the Royal Commission and what effect that will have on people seeking to rebuild. Speaking to John Burgess today he told me that he was focussed on working with all the relevant bodies to make sure the community were aware of what was happening but also ensuring that the community can participate and drive what happens in Flowerdale in the immediate and long term future.

The State Government has taken on the plans for the temporary village and has committed to build 24 semi permanent units and provide the necessary infrastructure for the village to run. The allocation of these units is being handled by DHS who can be contacted at the Services Hub at the Community Hall.

VBRRA confirmed yesterday that it will take over the operation of the Village and put in place the necessary staff and resources to manage the operations. This should help things get better organised there and provide clarity as to who is doing what in the temporary village.

The Community Meeting on Friday will be an important part of the next stage. We need to get input into what needs to be done next and ensure maximum community participation and ownership.

To keep up to date with Community meetings the Shire of Murrindindi issue a daily newletter with events both across the area and in Flowerdale.

Monday, March 30, 2009

General Cosgrove is coming to town

On April 7th retired General Peter Cosgrove is coming to Flowerdale. He will have a meet the locals session from 2.00pm to 3.30pm at the Flowerdale Hotel.

He is a great guy and has had a huge amount of experience in disaster recovery through his work in East Timor. He was also Australian of the Year in 2001.

After a tour of the area he will spend time in the morning talking to the Community Committee and others involved in the recovery efforts in Flowerdale. He is not acting in an official capacity but agreed to come down to talk to us and share his experiences and thoughts. We are looking to learn from his experience as we look to the long term future. General Cosgrove is very down to earth and approachable so we would love to see plenty of people there.

For more background see below or check out the Australian of the Year website or Wikipedia

"In 1999 the general became a national figure on being appointed commander of the International Forces East Timor (Interfet), responsible for overseeing East Timor’s transition to independence. With the large deployment of Australian troops, and considerable uncertainty about the outcome, it was a tense period. Cosgrove combined the roles of soldier and diplomat. Peter Cosgrove retired from the Army in July 2005.

In a long and distinguished career Peter Cosgrove has embodied that sense of duty and courage that Australians hold dear.

After retirement from the Armed Forces, General Cosgrove accepted positions on the Qantas Board, a consultancy with Deloitte and was appointed Chairman of the The General Sir John Monash Foundation.

Most recently, General Cosgrove was appointed to lead the relief and reconstruction effort in Innisfail and surrounding areas following the destruction in Queensland by Cyclone Larry in 2006."

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Things coming back around

It has been amazing to see how quickly the natural landscape is regenerating in Flowerdale. After the fires the trees were burnt, leaves had virtually petrified through the radiant heat and the forest floor and fields were black. Because in many spots the fire raced low through the undergrowth and burnt the lower parts of the trees the tops of many trees are displaying new green leaves among the brown. i put in a couple of photos taken in the immediate aftermath of the fire to give you some comparison.

"All the fields were black after the fire"

"Forests and trees were black, there was no undergrowth left at all"

There has been some rain, not heaps but enough for things to start to regrow. The tops of some trees are starting to shoot new green leaves and the fields and forest floor have got a magnificant green look about them. I took some photos on Saturday on the edge of a burnt out forest, and you can see just how green it is getting. Many of the

"View from the pub car park, these fields were totally black a few weeks ago

"A lush field on the edge of the forest that was totally balckened after the fires, see the green regrowth in the top of the trees"

It gives me a lift every time I look at the regrowth and gives me a constant reminder that no matter how bad things get, things come back around.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Celebration at the School

Last night the community came together at the school for a celebration. The principal Ross Davis, or Mr D, wanted to have a celebration to thank all those who had helped save the school from the fires together with all of the people who had helped since. Mr D also brought up all the staff for a well deserved thank you.

There were probably about 150 people there from young to old. It was a great night and the Flowerdale community spirit was in the air. There were plenty of smiles and laughs as people took a break from the rigours of battling through the last seven weeks.

At about 8.00pm Mr D took centre stage and shared with us some of the wonderful stories from the school since Black Saturday. One of the former students who enrolled in 1939 had been up to visit as a reminder of how long the school has been around. He also shared with us visits from other schools where people had driven from NSW, Canberra and even a group who loaded up a trailer from Tasmania and came across on the ferry. He read some of the letters of support that had been received from other school kids as young as seven. The support has been unbelievable, and had a few tears in peoples's eyes.

Mr D then played a collection of photos with "I am Australian" as the backing track. Pictures of the kids, parents, staff and celebrities such as Shane Warne, Chris Martin and Noni Hazelhurst had everyone crying by the end. In Flowerdale there is no embarrassment when people show their emotions, life is very real.

The tears were not of sadness more the sort of joy you experience when the love and support from across Australia and the world comes to the fore. Somehow seeing how much people care just brings out raw emotion in a positive and healing way.

Mr D then presented plaques commemorating the efforts of those who saved the school to be displayed in the key gathering points in the town, namely, the Rec Reserve, the pub, the hall, the shop and CFA.

Lyn Gunter, the Mayor of Murrindindi, who is a Flowerdale resident, also said a few words. It is hard to comprehend how hard Lyn has worked in the last seven weeks as here Shire covers Flowerdale, Marysville, Kinglake, Kinglake West and Narbethong. She is looking tired but is still going hard at it and has a positive attitude.

It was also good to see the warm applause for everyone who got up to speak or receive a plaque, the community is united and focused on the future, that is what is making a difference up here.

The other thing that provided the background noise was the kids all playing together. They had a fantastic night and really enjoyed themselves. It is amazing how quickly kids accept their lot and just get on and have a good time. It is something we can all learn from.

In short, a great night in a great community, thanks to all those who made it happen.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Moving In, Spreading the spirit, Going Legit

Sorry for slacking off my posts, I have been travelling around and write this post from Brisbane Airport.

The first of our residents moved into the portable chalets today now they are wired, plumbed and have steps in accordance with all the safety regulations. We are still running off generators and the power is on track for Friday.

The next lot of semi permanent units are in construction and our first two are furnished and occupied. It is really heart warming to see the smiles of the residents and having had a tour courtesy of Michael and Sharon, I can say they are very good. They have kitchens, bathrooms, lounge and two bedrooms.

I had to do a presentation today called "Innovation in a Crisis", and rather than talk about the Financial Crisis, I showed them some of the videos and photos from Flowerdale, in my opinion a much greater crisis. I talked about the spirit of the town from the early days when the locals fought the fires to save the school, hall and pub with no training and little equipment. I also showed them how the community banded together and have got the temporary village up and running. The key messages I gave was that everyone has the same goal, it is not about heirarchy but contribution, it is not what you haven't got but how you can use what you have, and also setting goals and getting on with it. I also acknowledged the contributions of the donors and supporters who have contributed their time and equipment to make the temporary village a reality. The people of Flowerdale are an inspiration to the world with their spirit and can do attitude.

We also got our Fundraising Permit from Consumer Affairs so the Flowerdale Relief site can now take direct donations rather than pledges. I will have to set up the online payment facility as tomorrow's challenge. Thanks to VBRRA for fast tracking this. Any money raised will go to funding immediate needs of the Village as well as build up some funds for longer term projects that the community sees as a priority as we move into the rebuilding phase.

Anyway hope you are having a good day, we certainly are.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

A busy couple of days

Well I started early yesterday for a Sunday. Dropped into the rec to drop some furniture off for a couple of new residents. They have pretty much what they need but didn't have any drawers or wardrobes to put their clothes in. While I was there I checked out the Chalets. They are ready to go other than for steps which are going in from Monday. Good news is the work is going to locals to help them keep kicking along.

For something different we had a tree catch on fire outside the pub on Sunday morning. Not sure if it was a slow burner that sparked up from the original fires or how it started but luckily the CFA guys were doing some training down the road, came down quickly and put it out. Practical training is always good.

Spent the afternoon with John Burgess and Peter Auty talking through how we can achieve a brighter future. We were working through some ideas for the future which we will talk to the community about during the week.

A good number of people have put down their names for computers at the relief hub. We are trying to get access to computers via InfoXchange and some other sources but it is slow.

The missing Eureka Flag was quickly replaced by a smaller one, thanks Billy Price, so the symbol of our collective action at Flowerdale still flies high.

Friday, March 20, 2009

I love it when a plan comes together

When the Premier came to Flowerdale on 4th March the most important thing he said as far as the community was concerned was "this is a community government partnership". It was also at that time that Christine Nixon had visited the town in her new role as head of the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority. On that day we handed over our plans for the temporary village.

The execution of the temporary village plan has been happening fast and the good news is that the government and VBRRA are delivering. The next eight flat pack semi permanent units are coming next week. Power will be on by next Friday and the design for a communal kitchen has been accepted and will get going soon. As I mentioned previously the road and lighting are in train.

It has been a smooth process and the speed with which things are moving gives us great confidence in the VBRRA. They have also helped us navigate other departments, for example they have been able to fast track our fundraising permit through Consumer Affairs.

While Flowerdale has been called the DIY town for our approach of getting on with things ourselves, the key thing we did was to get our plans in place and work with a wide range of people and organisations from the corporate, philanthropic and govermnent sectors.

It bodes well for the future as we start to think about the rebuilding phase. A key focus will need to be on sustaining Flowerdale's community spirit and ethos, while providing a sustainable future in terms of the environment, infrastructure and economy.

The Royal Commission was in town yesterday in a closed session. It is the start of what will be a long process to ensure that the events of Black Saturday are not seen again. If you couldn't get there and have ideas for prevention we have set up a website at firevoice.uservoice.com which is collecting ideas for presentation to the Royal Commission. You can add you ideas or simply vote or comment on the ideas that are there.

Although I wasn't in town on Black Saturday I have put in a number of ideas around communication. I know I was trying to get information on what was happening and there were major issues around the timeliness of information on 774, lack of detail coming out of the CFA and the DSE website wasn't working. I was trying to get updates on Flowerdale during the day but there was nothing coming through. We would really appreciate your input and ask that you spread the word.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Hard training and chalets come to life

The training before the clearing continues. There has been traffic control and asbestos training so the guys have had to do quite a bit to get their red cards. Good thing is with the amount of work in front of us there will be local employment opportunities as well as the opportunity to be part of the process.

The rec reserve can be chaotic at times and there often seems that once something is fixed another issue arises. Things are on the move however and today I looked at a video I took two weeks ago when it was mostly still a cricket ground. It then dawned on me how fast things have moved. We are getting a communal kitchen, road and lighting put in; the chalets now have heating and cooling, hot water and power. The new generator is in place to provide the extra power needed on site. A mains power system is in train and will be done next week.

To put things in perspective I thought that if some had asked five weeks ago "Would it be possible to have a functioning village with housing, toilets, showers, laundry and a kitchen in the next five weeks?" you would have said "No way". The thing is that the rec just keeps getting better and we are up to the challenge for both the short term and then getting things right in the long term.

Peter Auty said to me last weekend that we need to think ahead 500 years and we want the people of Flowerdale in the future to be able to say the community made the right choices way back then.

And finally as promised the menu seen below is devoid of sausages, happy days

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Slash helps out and so do many others

Great story in the Herald Sun today about local resident Gavin Duggin being sent a guitar by Slash from Guns'n'Roses. It is amazing to see the way that the stories of bushfire affected people touch the hearts of so many.

The guy handing over the guitar is Wes Carr from Australian Idol, must admit i have lost track of Idol people since Guy Sebastian, but good on you Wes for doing it. At least you look like a rock star.

We also got contacted today by Neville and Leslie Woollard, a couple who are passionate metal detectors, with all the latest high tech equipment. They have offered to use their detectors to recover any jewellery, coins, medals or other metal items that may have survived the fires. if you are interested in taking up the offer let John Burgess know, he has their contact details. Alternatively ping me an email and I can arrange with John, pewilliams@deloitte.com.au.

The Beaconsfield Kindergarten donated some money to the kindergarten and Trudy Fraser who is involved with a Kindergarten for deaf children has also donated some books. All of these fantastic offers of cash and assistance are coming through the donations site www.flowerdalerelief.com. The site was built by some of the graduates from Eclipse, the web company I used to run. It was done in a hurry but is working. We also will have our fundraising permit sorted by tomorrow, thanks to Emma at VBRRA and Consumer Affairs Victoria for helping us get this through so fast. We will then be able to officially take donations.

I also ran into a couple of guys who do tree lopping from Perth. They were in town for a few days and made some friends. They are coming back on 30th March to do quotes and will start work on 3rd April, they are also looking for help from local contractors. Their email address is elementstreesolutions@yahoo.com.au if you want to contact them either for tree lopping or to pick up some work.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

CPR for Dummies and Chris Martin says hello

I was wondering what to write today so I jumped on to the photo stream from the village on Flickr and was totally confused by what I saw.

Then I realised it was the guys doing their CPR first aid training. I was the dummy in this case. This has been organised by Billy Price and the CFMEU, great to see community members taking initiative, using their networks and helping lots of other community members in the process

Now we haven't been known for complaining since the fires, more just getting on with it, despite the hardships; but I had heard around the rec reserve that people were getting a little over sausages. Not that the Hales Institute team weren't doing their best to be a creative and I was a fan of the curried sausages but there hadn't been a lot else on the menu.

The problem was we had a lack of access to a meat supply. The great news is that we now have an account at the Yea Butcher and the menu diversity will be back to what it was.

A mate of mine was at the Coldplay concert in Sydney and let me know that Chris Martin, recent visitor and friend of Flowerdale, had arranged for a few Flowerdallians to get to the concert and said hello to them from the stage. What a top guy, his visit up here was a great thrill to many and Viv from the pub is still talking about it.

The portable chalets, or in local lingo, the dongas, have been wired up and are ready to go.

We are looking at getting in a road around the site so everything will be accessible if it gets wet. It wasn't really bad this week but you could see that it could get bad pretty quickly if there was some heavy rain.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Moving in and some useful links

The first two semi permanent units were occupied today which is a great milestone. The wet weather has made things a bit muddy but not too bad. We will need to get things done before winter arrives and we are working on it.

The Victorian Bushfire Recovery and Reconstruction Authority has launched a web site at www.wewillrebuild.vic.gov.au. Not much there yet but should be a key source of information on the activities of the VBRRA as things unfold.

There are a couple of Kinglake Ranges websites www.kando.org.au, and the Kinglake Region Business Network, www.krbn.com.au, which has lots of information for business owners in the region.

I have been asked about local contractors getting involved in the cleanup, Grocon are coordinating the work and have an email address firecleanup@grocon.com.au hazardous goods need to be cleared by A and B class removalists. So email them and someone tell Stylesy because I cant find his number.

This morning the Herald Sun published a story on Warnie and Chris Martin's secret visit to Flowerdale, well you heard it first on the Flowerdale Blog 10 days ago, (bloggers just love it when they beat the traditional media to the story)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

You are welcome as we look to the future

It is great to see the number of visitors to Flowerdale dropping by the Pub and Shop and giving the community moral support. The main thing people say is that they feel like they are intruding; rest assured we welcome you to come to town. I handed out a heap of car stickers for our relief fund www.flowerdalerelief.com so the visitors can make a contribution by maintaining a level of awareness of what is happening here.

We were pleased to see our friends in Marysville moving along the temporary village path to keep the community together and get momentum for rebuilding.

Today a few of us are getting to look to the future and identify what projects we want for the longer term. In addition we are completing the Fundraising Permit paperwork and should be able to take cash donations rather than pledges next week.

The residents who went to Sound Relief got home about 1.30am this morning, soggy but inspired with the support from the Australian Music Industry and the Australian people.

The key message from yesterday was that if we stick together with our unique Aussie sense of mateship and community we can together overcome any adversity. I think it also reinforces that the best way to achieve happiness is through what you can do for others. I have had a lot of expats from other countries in the last month say to me that there is something special in the Aussie spirit and ability to band together, that they didn't see in their home countries. I think we often don't see it because it has always been there in us.

The other message was that no matter how tough it gets things come back around. The grass, creek, trees and wildlife in Flowerdale are showing us how and that belief in a better future keeps us driving forward.

I spent an hour last weekend watching a pair of magnificent Wedge Tailed eagles rebuilding a nest in a burnt out tree in a burnt out forest. Maybe it wasn't the ideal living scenario but they were home, they were staying and getting on with it. The joy they gave us as they soared majestically overhead gave us a renewed sense of purpose. Hopefully you can find some of that in your life everyday, no matter how tough the future challenges may appear. Don't be scared to ask for help, your fellow Aussies will step in for you.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Roads are open, Grass is greener

Drove up today and the roadblocks that had seemed like a permanent presence have gone. Anyone wanting to visit can drive up to Whittlesea and drive along the Whittlesea-Yea Rd and get into Flowerdale. Personally, I think that it is worth taking the drive just to get an understanding of the scale of the disaster. Make sure you drop into the shop and pub if you go through, they need the business!

Lots of the survivors went to the Sound Relief concert not sure where the tickets came from but thanks to whoever gave them to us. Pity about the weather, but I am sure the support and goodwill from a full MCG crowd will give them all a boost. Great to see the Oils, Hunners and Enz back together for this event.

With some rain on the hill the grass that was once black is now reshooting and a tinge of green is is coming through. There were even a few of the gum trees starting to show signs of new growth. The King Parrot Creek was getting some reasonable flow which also must be good.

We had a good community meeting last night and the mood of the Community remains good. It is the sense of community that has helped get us to where we are now and will sustain us into the future. Of course there will be frustrations but I think Flowerdale has shown that it can jump any hurdles put in its way.

The rec reserve continues to move and we took up some more laptops and xboxs today (thanks Steve), we are trying to grab another portable site office to set up an internet cafe and games area. That is tomorrow's job.

We are starting to put together some ideas for longer term projects that will provide additional amenities and infrastructure for the future. If anyone has ideas please leave a comment.

Friday, March 13, 2009

40 locals get "Red Cards" and in search of TShirt Designers

The CFMEU were on site yesterday and trained 20 locals so they can receive their "Red Card", effectively a ticket to enable them to work on building sites and another 20 will be trained today. Next week we will train them on asbestos safety. This will allow locals to be actively involved in the clearing and rebuilding phases. Feels good to be thinking about the next stage and helping locals get employment.

The DHS is now organised for housing allocation and more of the semi permanent 2 bedroom units will be constructed. we are working with DHS and the Salvation Army to furnish the units and that process is running pretty smoothly.

We also are running a tshirt design competition so we can get some cash into our Flowerdale Relief Fund. If you are a designer or know one tell them to go to http://www.australianedge.net/ and submit a design. Might be good for a school as well.

The village keeps rolling along, we have put down synthetic grass around the portable chalets in readiness for the rain that has now decided to fall after a three month holiday.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Bushfire Funds to go to victims

Here is an extract from a press release from the Premier's office this morning

"More than $130 million in donations to the Bushfire Appeal Fund will be distributed to people whose houses were destroyed or partially destroyed by this year’s devastating bushfires, the Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund Advisory Panel Chair John Landy and the Premier John Brumby announced today. Mr Landy said all homeowners whose principal place of residence was destroyed by the bushfires would receive a Rebuilding and Recovery Grant of $50,000. This consists of $35,000 for rebuilding and $15,000 to replace contents.

Tenants whose principal place of residence was destroyed by the bushfires will receive a $15,000 payment for contents lost or damaged.

Mr Landy said people whose homes were partially destroyed by the bushfires and who will need to relocate during rebuilding will receive a payment of $15,000 for costs associated with repairs and rebuilding."

The full press release is at http://www.premier.vic.gov.au/premier/bushfire-appeal-funds-to-help-communities-rebuild.html

A busy day and we meet the Ride of Fire

Things were pretty hectic yesterday, the generator running the coolroom ran out of fuel, a couple of other things broke down and plenty of work was happening on site. Things were sorted by the end of the day thanks to some quick action by the locals and DHS stepped in to sort out the fuel supply problem. Once we get power to the site things will be OK but these things happen when you are doing it on the fly.

At 1.30 we got a call from Boyd Jackson, he has organised a Harley ride down from Cairns to raise money for bushfire victims and was in Yea. Having ridden 4000kms we thought it only fair he ride another 20 and come into town. Harleys are a common site around Flowerdale so I told him he would be more than welcome, also to get his skates on so he could get lunch at the pub. Boyd and his group have raised $40,000 for the bushfire appeal. I will try to grab some pics once Boyd gets back online. See www.rideoffire.com

The guys had a look at the destruction zone and then visited the village. I spoke to Boyd last night, he was overwhelmed with the scale of the disaster but also amazed at how the community has banded together to get things going. He said that he was going to ensure the group become "Friends of Flowerdale" and will continue to do what they can to help those affected by the fires.

My old mate Steve Outtrim, one of the pioneers of the internet, dropped by with an armful of xBoxes and games. These are so important because many kids coming back have not much to do and can be quite a handful. Thanks Steve.

Who knows what today will bring, no doubt we will have our challenges but we will work through them and keep marching on.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Rebuilding your photo collection - Help Available

Many people who lost their homes on Black Saturday also lost their photo collections. Simon Gilligan, from Applebox, the world's most innovative video store, put me in contact with a friend of his who will help families reconstruct their photo memories.

http://noelb.com/photohelp.htm :
If you have lost your family photos because of the bushfires but are able to source prints from family or friends we would be glad to copy them digitally and provide images on CD. Due to some very generous donations we hope we will also be able to provide a number of archival quality prints. If any damaged photos are able to be salvaged from burnt out homes we will endeavour to restore them.
Looking to the future, if people are interested, we would like to photograph families who have lost their homes and provide them with prints to re-start their family photo collections. We plan to do this at no cost to those bushfire victims who would like our help.

A great offer and hopefully we can help families reconstruct those memories.

The double dongas hit the village

Well the Village keeps on growing and the first of the two bedroom Portable Chalets (formerly known as Dongas) hit town yesterday. Those guys from Fortescue are unbelievable.

They will be great for a small family and they look really good.

We are getting power into the village via SP Ausnet which will give us the capacity to house a lot more people. Electricians are putting all the wiring in place and we will be ready to go very soon.

If you are a resident of Flowerdale and are thinking of coming back talk to your DHS case manager and let them know you are interested or drop me a line pewilliams@deloitte.com.au and I can give you some background information.

Our donations site is going well, we have got our second car, which will be useful for a family that has lost their means of transport. www.flowerdalerelief.com

I am working with InfoXchange to get computers to people who lost their own computer in the fires. Slight problem is that across the state there have been 560 requests and to date we have got 120 computers from organisations like NAB, Telstra, Deloitte and some personal ones that have been donated. If you have more computers than you know what to do with and want to free up some space let me know and we can get them out into the field.

The Community meeting this week has been moved to Friday night at 8.00pm at the Recreation Reserve.

By the way if you want to come up and have a look you can get into town by taking the Hume Highway to the Broadford/Flowerdale exit and turn right into the Strath Creek Rd. There are no road blocks and Steve and Viv at the pub do the best Chicken Parma going around so drop in, you will be amazed to experience the community spirit in a time of tragedy. Much better vibe than the doom and gloom of the financial crisis.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

This is the place for a village

The first two semi permanent units are pretty well built and look great.

They should be finished today and hopefully we will have them inhabited very quickly. I am trying to work out what we do with furniture but hopefully that is in hand. We have a really cool laundry facility which came from Leightons, I think.

Spent quite a bit of time over the long weekend with Andrew Forrest and his team, they really got in amongst the locals, and delivered plenty of action combined with compassion. All of the Portable Chalets from Fortescue Metals are now in place and looking good. We can't thank Andrew enough for his drive, dynamism and delivery.

"Andrew Forrest with Crash, the man behind Crashtown"

"Andrew Forrest with Lynette and her son, some of the first residents in our Village"

John Burgess and I visited Marysville yesterday, they are moving quickly to establish a temporary village. They have a great area across from the golf club which has power and plumbing and it should receive its first portable chalets (the mobile homes formerly known as Dongas) this week. The marysville guys seem to be hitting their straps and things are on the move there as well.

My other big problem is that I am being inundated by kids and parents seeing if we can get some deals on electronics, now the kids have somewhere to stay they want their Wii's, DS's, IPods and xBox's. Trying to see what I can do.

I also don't think any of the victims got any Sound Relief tickets, bugger, would have been nice to participate in something put on for the Bushfire Victims. We missed the National Day of Mourning as we were all up here flat out on getting the Village going. Oh well at least Warnie came to visit with Chris Martin.

"Warnie with Todd and Ian, two guys who turned up from Queensland three weeks ago and haven't stopped working as Volunteers on the ground"

Monday, March 9, 2009

Victims no more - I changed the name

I decided to change the name of this blog, I am not sure I have it right but I don't have the feeling that the community feels like victims anymore. It is much more about the fighting spirit in the community than the suffering caused by the bushfires. Would love your comments on the change.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

We are making it happen

It had been four days since I had been in town, but that is now a long time in this place. Ok, I have to admit I've had a few beers and feeling pretty emotinal and happy about being here, but I 've never been to a place and time more real.

The pub was rocking, Christine Nixon and Andrew Forrest, the mining magnate, are sitting outside sharing a jug of soft drink, more Harleys than Elizabeth St, looks like a ZZ Top convention meets rural community and there is a confident vibe. Something has been started here that is impossible to stop, a united and determined human spirit. The people here understand what a crisis really is, they've stared it down and they took it on.

The temporary village looks great and will get better but I suppose now is the end of the beginning. Next is to make sure we rebuild and take the opportunity to blow out the old problems, make the town better than it ever was and keep the spirit of this remarkable community.

To see the latest photos of the village go to www.flowerdalerelief.com or Flickr

Friday, March 6, 2009

Warnie comes to town with a little Coldplay

Well little Flowerdale had some surprise visitors today, Australia's greatest bowler Shane Warne came into town with Chris Martin the lead singer of Coldplay.

They first dropped by the school and then mingled with locals at the Flowerdale Hotel. There was lots of excitement as they rubbed shoulders with the locals, heard the stories and witnessed the devastation caused by the bushfires.

It is hard to express just how much visits like these mean to the community. Before Black Saturday, Flowerdale was a fairly well kept secret and never in their wildest dreams would the community think they would be rubbing shoulders with such well known celebrities. It really tells them that people all over the world care about what has happened to them and are willing to give support.

Can't thank you enough guys, and when I get into town (wasn't there today, had my Uncle Bruce's funeral) I will grab some pics and put them on the blog so you can see how it went.

Murrindindi Shire announced that the Kilmore East/Murrindindi fire complex was offically under control which I suppose gives some level of closure.

On Sunday, Christine Nixon will be in town at 10.00am at the Flowerdale Pub to chat with locals, talk about the role of the Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority as well as how the relief fund will be distributed. Will be very interesting.

Anyway no rest for the wicked, we still have a temporary village to build and then we can take on the task of rebuilding the town. We have a long way to go, but days like today give us all a boost and the energy and resolve to keep moving forward.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

How can we help other towns?

We got a call last night from a community organiser in Marysville asking us to share how we have been able to move quickly to get our temporary village off the ground.

It was a good opportunity to reflect on what we have learned and to share with another fire ravaged town what has enabled us to move quicky.

Marysville lost virtually everything and the death toll there was horrific. As the fires were deliberately lit there is still more work required by police and coroners before the rebuilding can be started.

We were fortunate there was some key infrastructure in the town that was saved by the locals which meant that a critical mass of people never left the Community and could continue to remain in Flowerdale notwithstanding it was a pretty tough few weeks.

We had the pub, the school and community hall together with the local shop. The Spring Valley Recreation Reserve, which is where the temporary village is, was untouched and gave us a logical place to set up. We certainly endured some very frustrating times trying to get essential supplies into town due to roadblocks which I outlined in some of my earlier posts.

I understand that Maryville was pretty well evacuated after Black Saturday and the community still isn't able to go back.

The recovery effort in Flowerdale is Community led and driven. The vast majority of the recovery effort and the skills applied comes from people in the town. People in the town have experience in Leadership, Logistics, Community Development, Consulting Engineering, Structural Engineering, Accommodation and Hospitality, Economics, Sport and Recreation to mention a few. Outside help was sought in areas such as Web Technology, Accounting, Electrical Engineering and Project Management. This help came from existing networks within the community.

We also have a two phased plan, Phase one was to get whatever we could into the town to feed and house the residents in the area that remained, this included the caravans, mining huts and tents. Phase two is to put in place some semi permanent accommodation, which the State Government has now committed to provide, which will ensure that there is quality accommodation for people to come back to during the rebuilding phase.

I am sure that the people of Marysville have the skills and capability to get things moving and when they have the opportunity to get back together they will also come out of this even stronger than they were before. I have spent a great deal of time in Marysville over the years and the drive through the Black Spur is in my view the most spectacular drive in Victoria. It is a fantastic town with a strong sense of community.

We wish the people of Marysville well and whatever we can share or do that may be able to help we are more than willing to do, at the end of the day we are all in this together.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Flowerdale and the Premier - Partnering to rebuild

Well what a morning. John Brumby, Bill Shorten, Christine Nixon, Major General John Cantwell, Richard Wynn and a range of other senior officials came into Flowerdale this morning with a big media scrum in tow.

All were amazed at how fast the temporary village is moving and Premier Brumby said that the Flowerdale Community and Government would continue to work in partnership to construct the temporary village to house homeless residents.

John Burgess the community leader handed over the plans developed by the community for the temporary village wrapped up with a big Tonka Fire Truck. John said the Flowerdale community had developed the plans and saw it as a model that could be used by other communities impacted by the fires as well as how communities affected by disasters in the future could fast track the disaster management process through community led partnerships with government.

Beyond that we would look to start the longer term rebuilding process. The State Government has contracted McKern Housing to build the first 20 semi permanent housing units.

A big thank you to everyone who came up today government, media and community members. In the words of John Burgess "All lights are now green"...go Flowerdale.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Getting organised for Donations

Sorry for the late post today, things have been pretty frantic. We are just putting the final touches to a new website. http://www.flowerdalerelief.com

We have set up the site for people to pledge donations or to offer goods and services. it has been a rush job but it is looking good. We have to set up formally as a charity and then get a permit from Consumer Affairs to ask for cash donations which may take a little time but we decided to get the ball rolling and ask for pledges which we can follow up. We have already received donations via the pub, friends of residents, the Deloitte Foundation. We need money to be able to ensure we can maintain the food supply and also get the things we need for the Temporary Village. John Burgess is on SBS insights tonight @ 7.30pm and it seemed the right time to launch our own relief effort. The funds will be administered by the Deloitte Foundation to ensure that donations are spent on the right things.

If you run a website or blog a link would be great.

As part of our ethos in the Flowerdale Recovery Team we have decided that rather than wait for things to be formally organised via the relief fund we would get on and do it ourselves.

Water Tanks being put in place

Major General Cantwell, VBRRA, and Craig Lapsley, DHS, talk through the plans for the temporary village with Flowerdale Recovery Team

Monday, March 2, 2009

Village keeps growing

There is plenty going on in the Village, two of the semi permanent houses are being built right now at the top end of the rec reserve, bit like backyard blitz only faster. The units are provided by the State Government via the Office of Housing and great to see the Field of Dreams becoming a reality.

We have put in place a range of things for fire protection including fire rakes, extinguishers, 44 gallon drums with mops and the firebreak. We are pretty confident that we have the people and facilities on the ground to be OK for the extreme conditions tomorrow.

Major General John Cantwell flew in and had a meeting with the Community Council. He was clearly impressed by what we have been able to achieve.

Jeanette Kamar has been a real quiet achiever with the tennis club. We aim to build 4 new tennis courts in North West corner of the rec reserve. The tennis club has had 46 new players who have expressed interest in learning to play tennis. It is great to see how sport can help the community keep together and grow. Tennis Victoria has been the driving force behind this initiative with the support of the Department of Planning and Community Development.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Dongas in the Village

After a long journey from Perth the first of the Dongas (miners accommodation) arrived in the Flowerdale Village. They have been provided by Fortescue Metals and are in great nick. Each unit has a bedroom, bathroom, bench and desk and there are four in each of the dongas. They have electricity, plumbing, TV antenna and will be a great boost to the Village and local residents left homeless after Black Saturday.