GOOD NEWS

Macksville BlazeAid camp saved from permanent closure

If not for some quick actions and passionate campaigning by a concerned group of locals, Macksville would have lost its BlazeAid camp for good over the weekend.

Some 45 properties in the Nambucca Valley have already received assistance from BlazeAid since November - a good result when you factor in time lost during the Christmas break, and during the torrential rain the Valley received just after.

But there are around 90 registered properties to go, and many more property owners who have not yet signed up.

In reaction to the COVID-19 pandemic, the camp was put in lockdown from Tuesday last week (March 24), with volunteers allowed to leave, but none able to return, meaning most volunteers stationed at the camp opted to return home.

Camp Coordinator Clinton Cole had submitted his resignation nearly eight weeks prior and was just about to finish up, with noone organised to replace him.

Clinton Cole (left) took over as camp co-ordinator from Greg Dyson just after Christmas

Clinton Cole (left) took over as camp co-ordinator from Greg Dyson just after Christmas

On Friday evening long-term local volunteers Chris and Bob were advised by BlazeAid Director Kevin Butler that the camp was to be shut down permanently, with someone coming to start the process and collect fencing materials the very next morning.

Chris made an urgent phone call to Mayor Rhonda Hoban for help.

The next day she, Chris, Bob, Council General Manager Michael Coulter, Reverend Clyde Appleby (whose parish has been actively helping the camp with donated tools and support), and Showground Committee representative Peter Trisley made an appeal via teleconference to Kevin Butler to keep the camp open.

"Kevin made it clear that once a camp closed, it would not reopen unless there was another disaster years later," Chris said.

Mayor Hoban said Mr Butler explained that once a camp was shut and accounts finalised, it would take a significant amount of effort to reopen it again - more than BlazeAid was willing to exert, with so many other camps in operation around the country.

A suggestion was made to simply put the camp into 'hibernation' instead of closing it completely.

But there were concerns about the security of the materials, trailers and other equipment while the camp lay dormant.

The specialised trailers are a valuable resource, and worth quite a bit of money

The specialised trailers are a valuable resource, and worth quite a bit of money

After a protracted and heated discussion, an accord was finally reached in which council would secure the materials, and other concerned parties would step up to secure the equipment.

Chris and Bob put themselves forward to share the role of camp co-ordinator, although it was not a job either of them particularly wanted - it's gruelling work.

"We feel overwhelmed right now," Chris said.

"But I'm relieved we haven't lost BlazeAid from the Valley in total."

Mayor Hoban was also relieved at the outcome, not wanting to contemplate the alternative.

"Well it would have been a huge blow to the 90-odd properties that are waiting on fencing," she said.

Not only are some people dealing with the after effects of the fires, as soon as the floods came it created a whole new raft of problems, and now they're dealing with COVID-19.

"Focus from all agencies has been shifted now to COVID-19, and for good reason. But the process of dealing with the aftermath of the bushfires still continues - that doesn't go away.

"I'm very conscious of the fact we still have those needs in the community."

Chris said he wasn't sure how it would "all pan out down the track".

"The bit that upsets me is we've got some farmers who haven't seen a BlazeAid worker since they registered," he said.

"BlazeAid people have attempted to do the best in the circumstances they've been given - wet weather has been our number one enemy, and now there's this virus to top it off.

"I know there are lots of locals ready and willing to volunteer right now, and are disappointed they can't."

He and Bob will be fielding all enquiries until the camp is given the all clear set up stumps again.

"When we reopen we're hoping to call on local support, and we'll hopefully sail through together," they said.

When we reopen we're hoping to call on local support, and we'll hopefully sail through together.

Co co-ordinators Bob and Chris

"We want to thank the local volunteers who helped to pack the camp down over the weekend."

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