01 January 2016

A community’s tale of resilience at Wye River: Opinion, Geelong Advertiser

AS I write, the communities of Kennett River, Grey River and Wongarra are in the thick of a bushfire emergency.

The residents of Wye River and Separation Creek are still coming to grips with the devastation that has engulfed their community.

Business losses skyrocket as the Great Ocean Road between Lorne and Apollo Bay remains closed.

The magnificent beach at Wye River is deserted and the local surf life saving club has been converted into a community relief centre.

Yet, amid this tragedy, we see the Australian spirit at its finest.

I have just returned from Wye River, a community that is determined not to be beaten.

Some 500 firefighters are working throughout the remote Otways, battling a fire that the CFA predicts could burn for another two months.

The captain of the Wye River Fire Brigade, Roy Moriarty, has become a real local hero. Three members of his brigade were among 116 to lose their homes. One in 10 were permanent residents. That no lives were lost is a testament to the CFA’s planning and first-class firefighting resources. Nothing was left to chance.

On the day Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull visited these fire-ravaged communities, he announced more funding to extend the contract for the large aircraft tankers (LATs).

Over several days, the LATs have been dropping fire retardant on the outskirts of Lorne and Kennett River, providing vital protection.

During the Prime Minister’s visit, I wore a Wye General Store T-shirt. This was my way of reminding visitors how important it will be to support the local economy once the road reopens in the weeks and months ahead.

For the Wye River Hotel, 25 per cent of its revenue flows during the Christmas and New Year period.

The Commonwealth is providing emergency grants in partnership with the state and will sympathetically consider any other natural disaster funding requests from the Victorian Government.

Two months ago, I visited Kafe Koala at Kennett River, a popular viewing spot for koalas with international tourists. I vowed to support owner Glenda Cameron’s funding battle for a toilet block and other important tourism infrastructure.

Now Glenda is facing a much bigger battle, the survival of her business.

Yesterday she declined a request to evacuate. Glenda told me she stayed behind because she was determined to provide meals for firefighters and other emergency workers.

This was not at the CFA’s request and no amount of convincing her to leave made any difference.

Just as occurred in 1983 during the Ash Wednesday bushfires, catastrophe can bring out the best in us.

These Great Ocean Road communities are already demonstrating they have the resilience and determination to go from strength to strength.

— Sarah Henderson is the Liberal federal member for Corangamite.