The overwhelming sense of community at Cobden is unlike anything Blaze Aid camp co-ordinator Chris Male has ever experienced.
After nine months of rebuilding more than 650 kilometres of fencing in the Corangamite Shire following the St Patrick’s Day fires, Blaze Aid volunteers from across the country are heading home.
They have worked seven days-a-week, camping in the depths of winter, to clear 180 kilometres of rolled up fences and erect new ones, helping farmers get back on their feet.
A free thank you lunch, live music and children’s activities are planned for the December 16 farewell for volunteers and community members who worked together after the devastating fires.
Mrs Male said “absolutely anybody and everybody who’s been involved” was welcome for lunch from 11am at Cobden’s South West Kart Club. “We’d just love the chance to thank the community for the hospitality and the way they’ve treated us and we’d like to say goodbye to our new friends.”
She said there was something special about the area. “We’ve never had support like we’ve had here. We’ve always been treated really well in the areas we’ve been to but this is different. This is another step higher. It’s just been terrific.”
More than 650 people have given a combined 5280 days to the cause with 15,360 meals served to volunteers and farmers at the kart club grounds. The oldest volunteer was 83 years old and the youngest was nine, with 68 the average age of volunteers.
“You meet inspiring people and the farmers of course head the list of inspiring people, to bounce back,” she said. “The dairy industry has been in such a horrible state and then the fire was just the final straw and yet these people have picked themselves up and they’re going on. They’re awesome.”
Corangamite Shire mayor Neil Trotter said Blaze Aid’s contribution was immeasurable. “It’s not only the fencing but the moral support they’ve offered to the community,” Cr Trotter said. “They've really fulfilled a role in inspiring people’s faith in humanity and that moral support, as well as the physical support, in terms of the fencing is incalculable.
“Their willingness to help out and contribute is really hard to quantify and to sustain it over a such a long period of time is great.”
He said the community was appreciative of Blaze Aid and had done everything they could do to support them. “The community owes a deep set of gratitude and it would be great to see as many people there to support Blaze Aid and give thanks for what they’ve done because it has been above and beyond. It's been a great effort.”
Corangamite Shire fire recovery manager Jarrod Woff said a number of local businesses and organisations had supported the recovery efforts, from companies who supplied materials, to service clubs and those who cooked meals or donated water for volunteers.
"This is a great opportunity for farmers, townspeople, volunteers, anyone and everyone, to get together and thank each other for what has really been a team effort,” Mr Woff said.
"We've had all hands on deck for a long time now and this will give people a chance to put it to one side and enjoy some rest and relaxation in a social atmosphere."
To RSVP contact Sarah Troisi at Corangamite Shire on 5593 7100.
Have you signed up to The Standard's daily newsletter and breaking news emails? You can register below and make sure you are up to date with everything that's happening in the south-west.