Red Cross friendships forged by fire

RESOLUTE is a word that sits comfortably when describing the people who make up the population of rural Australia.

The unforgiving Austra-lian climate continues to throw every type of extreme at those who try to make a living out of its fertile ground.

Back in February 1983 the people of the Western District were confronted with Mother Nature at her worst as fires roared unabated on an Ash Wednesday that would never be forgotten.

By the time flames were finally doused, many lives and properties had been lost and a massive rebuilding job was at hand.

Lorraine Eldridge and her family were one of the fortunate ones. Their family home located between Terang and Garvoc was spared.

But the devastation of the fires was all around and the desire to help rebuild her community was strong.

The fires had brought with them a sense of helplessness as they tore apart everything in their path.

But the people of the district immediately threw themselves into the task of recovery with selfless determination.

“At the time there were a lot of young families like us and we were all doing what we could to help out our neighbours and friends,” Mrs Eldridge said.

“We were all doing everything we could as individuals but a neighbour of ours, Deborah Smith, suggested we should look at a way we could all work together as a group.

“We looked around at a few different organisations and we found that Red Cross ticked all the boxes with its focus on things like catering, first aid and emergency registration.”

The ladies of the district approached the Red Cross and from that meeting the Mount Emu Creek Red Cross Unit was officially formed in July 1983, with Mrs Eldridge as its inaugural chairwoman.

The unit had a membership of 30 from across the district, the widespread nature of the membership reflected in the selection of the name for the group.

Mount Emu Creek was chosen because the creek meanders through a large number of properties in the district.

The Terang and district area became a pocket of strength for the Red Cross with the Mount Emu Creek, Terang and Garvoc units all operating at the time.

The Mount Emu Creek unit settled into its duties quickly, catering for sales, putting on small community functions and hosting Red Cross conferences among its fund-raising efforts.

It also helped run the blood bank in Terang and delivered meals on wheels from the Terang Hospital. 

But it was the role it played in enriching the social fabric of the community that was perhaps its most important function.

“Back in those early days we used to have our meetings at our members’ houses, which was really nice,” Mrs Eldridge said.

“While the fund-raising work we were doing was important, the social side of the unit was just as important.

“It was a support group where we could meet with like-minded people and it also served as a great way to welcome new people to the area and make them feel part of the community.”

The Mount Emu Creek Red Cross Unit lasted for 15 years before it combined its energies to join with the Terang unit, which is still going strong and serving Terang and district today.

Mrs Eldridge remains an active member, bringing with her a wealth of experience that includes time spent as the unit secretary and Red Cross regional chairman.

With 2014 a milestone year, marking 100 years of Red Cross in Australia, it is a perfect time for Mrs Eldridge to reflect on her three decades with the organisation.

“I am very proud to be a part of Red Cross,”she said.

“I have met so many wonderful people over the years through Red Cross, people I would describe as salt of the earth. And it has been a great way to do my part to help the community.

“It is a wonderful achievement for Red Cross to be going for 100 years in Australia. It was the first welfare agency in Australia and it led the way for others to follow.”

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