An opportunity to purposely rebuild from the bushfires

Community

4 February 2020

Me: Is our farm going to be alright, Dad? Are the new owners across the fire plan, Dad?

Dad: Don’t know mate, I’m heading up to help.

Me: Please be safe, Dad.

For days we watched the Victorian Emergency app with a nervousness like never before, hanging out by the phone for scattered updates from family, friends and clients in the Upper Murray region. As the days slowly went by, the utter devastation became apparent. The lives lost, the livestock burnt, native animals perished, pastures obliterated, fences demolished, infrastructure destroyed, equipment left in ruin, and for some - their homes lost. To watch your hometown and country burn is truly heartbreaking and beyond gut-wrenching.

As a family we could no longer enjoy the summer holidays together, and with heavy hearts, our plans were cancelled. As the smoke rolled in along with the messages from family, friends and clients, we felt suffocated and longed to be home, to help. To be so connected to your local community, but unable to be present and useful, made us feel lost and disconnected.

Mum sent me a photo of my Dad at our old dairy farm which our family sold in 2019, looking at the damage, taking it all in. It broke me, and right then and there I wept and wept. Our family farm named ‘Rocklea’ in the Upper Murray had been operating for 50 years.

Some asked, “Why do you care so much?” and said, “You should be happy you sold.” There’s no happiness in any of this for anyone. I guess I wasn’t surprised Dad was there. I knew he farmed from gut instinct built on pride, and he trusted the skill and experience he gained over many years - to be brave and bold in showing or talking about his feelings. To kneel and be present and do what he needed to do. I guess for some people, when your values truly align to who you are, your actions show your truth. A farmer never leaves his beloved farm behind.

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And then the anger aimed at the Government rolled in through the media. The media chasing down the vulnerable, the depleted the lost and confused, microphone at the ready.

Sick of feeling helpless, we called our family, friends and clients to reach out. With limited mobile service and road closures, this was a difficult exercise. We spoke to our network and chatted about how we could make a difference, provide light in the complete darkness.

The network responded with compassion. Champion people put their hand up and offered fresh food and clean water for families, fuel, generators, fodder, vet supplies and equipment – anything they could. Whilst this was appreciated, it was the time spent listening and debriefing with an arm around each other’s shoulders that meant the most to so many.

As we spoke to our family, friends and clients, the different stages of grief became apparent. Some so angry, some still crying, some unable to communicate, some simply going through the motions to have some sort of routine or sense of knowing what they meant to be doing. Others were already in reconstruction and working through. Some had found acceptance and hope, and sent fun and laughter through the local communities via music and dance moves. The human spirit is such a marvellous thing. In the Upper Murray it soared, so very high.

What became overwhelmingly obvious was that it didn’t matter the stage of grief, it was more important to understand and focus on each individual person to understand what matters most to them, to get them through the day, and to show kindness. To show up each day without judgement, with an understanding that everyone was impacted differently and reacted differently and that was ok.

Grants then became available – hooray! My first thoughts were, “Please let these be an easy process.” As I rang people to let them know, they honestly didn’t care too much about the grants. I was left pondering, “Why don’t they care?” I finally realised, that these unbelievably resilient characters weren’t victims waiting for a “hand out” - they would sort it out themselves, like so many people on the land. This is just what they know.

So here we are, farm by farm, business by business, individual by individual working together to ensure we are financially viable on our own terms. Not taking ‘hand outs’ but utilising grant funding to serve our purpose. To gather our support team – local vets, farm consultants, nutritionists, bankers, financial councillors, accountants, insurers and field officers - to come together to discuss the bigger picture, to know the strategy and serve together for a purpose bigger than any one person.

We are taking the opportunity to work through and understand insurance needs and what we learnt together in this space. Where are the gaps and how do we manage this? To assess financial positions and have robust discussions with financiers about support and guidance on how best to structure our debt as we rebuild. To ensure our cashflow position and redesigned budgets match our updated medium to long term goals.

The bushfires have taken many things, but they have not taken our purpose. They have not taken our sense of self. So, as new ideas evolve, a strong support team is critical to ensure a clear direction backed by commercial sensibility. To have a calm and structured approach married with stronger relationships, after having been through this together. We stand together, and you are not alone.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the thought or position of Findex (Aust) Pty Ltd.

Author: Sally Innis

Passionate about working with family farm businesses so they become more successful, remain efficient, profitable and sustainable, for the family, the farmer and rural communities.