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Fire, fear and the future

What a challenging start to the year it has been for everyone.

Experience of those at the front line in places like Kinglake and other towns impacted by Black Saturday, alongside the research that followed, tells us recovery from fire and other natural disasters is a long-term proposition – it will be an ongoing and evolving process for many years to come. 

Like all Australians, the staff and Trustees have been overwhelmed by the extent of devastation as a result of this summer’s bushfires, followed by the almost incongruous site of floods. We are keeping a very close eye on the communities in Victoria where we have strong connections and also greatly concerned by the extent of damage to endangered species and habitat. Recovery will be slow and probably not quite like anything that’s gone before. 

We’d like to extend our heartfelt support to any of our grantees who have been affected directly. Over the last 10 plus years we have been supporting local community groups and schools in the East Gippsland area and want to particularly send our good wishes and thoughts to our friends in this part of Victoria.
The approach from the Trust – by any measure small players in this overwhelming task of recovery – is twofold.

In January, the Trustees made an initial donation of $50,000 to the FRRR Disaster Resilience and Recovery Fund in January. This modest contribution will enable the returns from this perpetual Fund to be granted out to communities to support disaster preparedness and disaster recovery. This fund ensures that donated funds reach grassroots community organisations who often miss out on receiving disaster donations.

We’ve also boosted our grant funds to support biodiversity conservation, which essentially brings forward an intended approach under our strategy – making it happen a bit earlier. An additional $350,000 has been redirected to biodiversity conservation for the remainder of this financial year. The urgency to get biodiversity conservation right becomes clearer every day. 


Long-term approach
Our other approach is to take a long-term view, because as we know recovery from trauma – physical or emotional – is long.

To this end we’ve been doing a lot of listening and trying to engage as widely as possible with others in philanthropy, government, and with the community – those on the ground – to understand what communities need. We need to learn from the past and consider how we best work collaboratively to achieve sustainable outcomes that are community-led. 

As part of increasing our learning, In the last month we’ve participated in a Corporate & Philanthropic roundtable discussion for bushfire affected communities hosted by FRRR and  Philanthropy Australia, we’ve attended an AEGN forum on climate change addressed by the author of ‘Facing the climate emergency’, Margaret Klein Salamon, and visited Beechworth to hear directly from community members, local government and businesses on how to build community economic and social viability. The Australian Centre for Rural Entrepreneurship and former Federal independent local member, Kathy McGowan, hosted an expert speaker from Scotland, on community-led responses to natural disasters. 

One of the key things I’ve learnt from Margaret Klein Salamon, psychologist and climate change expert, is that if you acknowledge the pain and fear we all experience during such unimaginable disasters, then it motivates and mobilizes us into action. 

Once we do that, we need clear-eyed thinking about what kind of strategic approaches will help Victorians and our environment, in the long-term. This is what we are working on and we’ll have more to say in coming months.

Sarah Hardy
CEO, the Ross Trust