Letter to the Editor: Bushfire recovery money and council

Peter and Salena's property after the Bees Nest fire went through
Peter and Salena's property after the Bees Nest fire went through

A few months after moving to this area in early 2006, my wife made the comment, "You know, I've been living my life for 36 years, but since moving to Dorrigo, I feel I've joined in".

I immediately related to this comment. I therefore write this letter as an adopted and proud member of this community, with a strong belief that this is a community with excellent core values and opportunities.

However, there have been a number of letters and reports in this newspaper that have not reflected the overwhelming sentiments and core values I have witnessed as a resident.

Firstly, I would like to comment on the bushfires of 2019. The letters that suggest there were no fires in the Bellingen Shire "apart from the upper reaches of the Bellinger River" are factually wrong and, I suggest, do more harm than good.

My family lives in the western area of the shire. In some ways, my family was lucky in that the fire did come to our property and it did burn around three sides of our buildings. Some old timber fences were destroyed and some metal fences damaged. Grass reserves for our animals were destroyed and we subsequently needed to purchase feed.

We haven't received any government financial assistance because our farm is only a hobby farm, not a business farm. We are fortunate in that we have off-farm income. However, others who depend on their farm income have lost their livelihoods and significant investments in their businesses.

The RFS and other community members came from far and wide to assist fighting the fire. To witness this event was to witness the definition of community. Thank you to all.

The reason I suggest we were "lucky" is because once the fire had been put out, the fuel had gone, so the threat of fire had also largely gone. We could sleep a full night again.

For the days prior to the arrival of the fire, we felt we were living a zombie existence. We were constantly on alert and always tense.I have met others in our community who had similar experiences, such as skipping a heartbeat when seeing the red taillights of a vehicle, mistaking it for flames.

For my family, we only had to wait 10 days between the start of the Bees Nest Fire and it reaching our house.

Photo: RFS

Photo: RFS

However, many in the Plateau community - in and outside of the Bellingen Shire - had a variety of experiences from directly facing the fires, and first-hand the damage, to other people who experienced many weeks and months in a "zombie"state, unable to sleep for fear of the fire's imminent arrival, or simply choking from the smoke which extended to smoke-stained clothes and creosote-tasting water.

For those still recovering from this experience - now more than 12 months later - please know that others in your community may not know your individual circumstances, but you are not alone.

To those wishing to ignore the facts related to the extent of the physical fire on the ground, or the wider extent of the emotional worry that it caused, I ask you to please avoid playing with the emotions of the people in your community.

I would also like to make a comment about the reported $1.61m in bushfire funding from state and federal governments given to Bellingen Shire Council.

Recent announcements by BSC indicate that that the bulk of this funding is soon to be distributed.This is good to know.

I appreciate 2020 has been a rollercoaster of a year with the COVID-19 pandemic. However, for BSC to repeatedly publicise that it's got more than $1m sitting in a bank account for our community - for about a year now - while this community suffers through bushfire aftermaths and a pandemic, has compounded the stress for many people.

I found it particularly unacceptable the manner in which BSC urgently asked for community input as to how the funds were to be spent early this year - before any lockdown started - only to shortly after advise that the submitted consensus proposal was never going to be considered, as the decision as to how to spend the funds had already been made in Bellingen.

I suggest BSC needs to take an extensive and honest look at the culture that exists within the organisation that resulted in such a decision.

The 86 per cent 'agree' vote by members of the Dorrigo Chamber of Commerce in a "vote of no confidence in BSC" earlier this year is evidence that cannot be refuted, particularly as 73 per cent of all members participated in the vote.

The inability to engage with BSC seems to be endemic in recent years. Another example occurred last year when members of the Dorrigo community invited BSC to try and work out a better way to work together to solve many of the road and bridge concerns.

Our community is bursting with enthusiasm, vigour and willingness to work together to find solutions to improve the planet and create sustainable jobs. But, how can we achieve these outcomes when there is such a lack of empathy and enthusiasm from our local council towards Dorrigo?

How can we be a progressive and united community when the gatekeepers of development keep shifting the goalposts, thriving on red tape, and dismissing eager residents' willingness to contribute to sustainable outcomes?

To those in the Dorrigo community, or even those looking to relocate here, I have witnessed extraordinary examples and enthusiasm for win-win outcomes formed through an acceptance and appreciation of the power of synergies, interdependencies, and consensus.

I hope these historic core values can be used as the foundation for our community to move forward, and I invite BSC to consider if their culture and attitude is really supporting optimism and resilience in our community.

Peter Lynch,

Dorrigo