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    Volunteers and evacuees on a ferry waiting to be transferred to rescue ship HMAS Choules.
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    Wimmera Red Cross emergency-relief volunteers, front, Kerry Hapgood and Annette Jardine, fifth from right, Glenda Campbell and third from right, Sandra Spiers, with other volunteers as they prepare to leave Mallacoota’s evacuation centre.

Wimmera volunteers join fire-relief efforts


Wimmera Red Cross volunteers are among hundreds responding to requests for critical psychological and wellbeing support for bushfire victims. 

Red Cross Australia Victorian state director Sue Cunningham confirmed one Horsham resident was rostered on to help provide relief services within East Gippsland and north-east Victoria this week.

This follows three Horsham and one Stawell volunteer who returned on Friday from a January 4 deployment to Mallacoota, where fires have forced about 4000 people to evacuate and take refuge at Mallacoota Beach.

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Horsham’s Annette Jardine was part of the Wimmera support group.

She said she and other volunteers were helping provide people with psychological first-aid at Mallacoota’s emergency relief centre and on-board evacuation ship HMAS Choules, as well as take registrations for Red Cross’s ‘Register.Find.Reunite’ service. 

She said while her experience was ‘full on’ with heavy smoke in the air and a steady flow of registrations, it was largely unalarming for people involved owing to their patience and the work of volunteer organisations.

“It wasn’t scary,” she said.

“We knew what to expect because we’ve seen similar situations quite a lot, and I think the people who were most heavily affected were those who had already been evacuated by the ship that came before we arrived, which had nearly 1000 people on board. 

“Our ship had only 205 passengers including us, and 66 firefighters and 45 dogs.

“There wasn’t a lot of emotion that we saw. Everyone was really good, from the firies and police to the Navy personnel on the ship, they couldn’t have done more for everyone.”

Mrs Jardine said the four-person Wimmera support group flew into Mallacoota on a military transport aircraft, before being escorted to the town’s emergency relief centre – a gymnasium.

She said this was where volunteers provided wellbeing support to affected persons, as well as where many people slept. 

“We slept on gym mats. But we also brought sleeping bags and pillows, so it wasn’t too bad,” she said.

“There was a steady flow of registration and because there was too much smoke there were no flights running.

“Then we were told we would be accompanying people onto HMAS Choules, which went to Cerberus in Hastings on the Wednesday, where people who weren’t directly picked up by family and friends were given accommodation in Melbourne.”

Mrs Jardine said it was rewarding to be able to assist people in times of crisis.

“It is very humbling and rewarding to be able to help them and assist them, even if it is just sitting and talking with the people. Sometimes they don’t need anything but that,” she said.

“The reason we do it is just to support the community.”

Mrs Cunningham said volunteers statewide had been active in more than a dozen fire-relief centres, helping to provide psychological first-aid to more than 2500 people.

She said their support was ‘absolutely critical’.

“The support we are able to provide as an organisation is driven by our volunteers,” she said.

“They are the absolute backbone, so we really can’t appreciate them enough for what they’re doing.”

The entire January 15, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!