A group of volunteers from the South Coast of New South Wales have taken bushfire recovery efforts into their own hands, establishing the Indigenous Crisis Response and Recovery Aboriginal Corporation.
While his traditional lands have burned over the horror bushfire season, CEO of the now organisation, Clive Freeman, a Yuin man, decided there needed to be a co-ordinated response to help those affected and fill the gaps on the ground.
He described it as the ‘phoenix that rose out of the ashes.’
“We didn't sit and wait for somebody to come in. There wasn't that knight in shining armour coming over the hilltop, there wasn't that romantic view of ‘someone's gonna save us,'” he said.
“In many ways, we've just been on the ground facilitating those needs without very much support from government agencies or other agencies at all.”
The Indigenous Crisis Response and Recovery (ICRR) had volunteers working with First Nations communities in areas such as Nowra, Moruya, Narooma and Batemans Bay.
The Office of the Registrar of Indigenous Corporations lists its purpose as providing social and welfare support, assisting with relocation and helping disadvantaged Aboriginal people.
Through online donations and appealing to philanthropists, the ICRR has used funds to hire a bus for transport and provide necessities such as electricity generators and supermarket and clothing store vouchers.
Funds to the frontline
Donation drives, such as Red Cross and St Vincent de Paul, have made headlines for exuberant amounts of money being raised for bushfire-affected communities, but not making it to those most in need.
Clive Freeman said that isn’t good enough.
“It's very frustrating to see that there's millions and millions and millions of dollars out there floating around in the name of the victims, in the name of the crisis… But people on the ground are not getting that resource available to them,” he explained.
“It's all good to provide money, but if you can’t help somebody identify what they need that money for when they're not in the right frame of mind - The money doesn't mean anything."
Just the beginning
Based on experiences over the past few weeks, the ICRR estimates the crisis will last at least the next five years.
In order to curb long-lasting impacts on social, physical and mental well-being, the body was seeking funding for a permanent operational space in Moruya.
“What we really need down there is one consistent, functional space that people can come into and that other services can function from as well,” Mr Freeman said.
“So we can connect people with psychologists, we can connect people with doctors, we can connect people with the Aboriginal Medical Services, we can connect people directly into the women's crisis facility at Waminda and have that in the far south coast.”
Since its inception, the ICRR said all their donations have gone to those on the ground and are now seeking separate funding to establish a base.
The permanent base would aim to create a holistic approach to recovery, including on-going welfare checks on those affected and re-building cultural spaces.
With the school year fast approaching, there are also concerns for a lack of childcare and education services for students that have been displaced in the fires.