Support continues for burnt out farmers

By Rick Bayne

COMMUNITY SUPPORT and a great level of coordination are helping south-west Victorian farmers recover after recent bushfires, but they still have a long way to go.

WestVic Dairy’s new dairy farm recovery co-ordinator, Helen Chenoweth, is helping to coordinate industry recovery and says the community support has been impressive.

“There has been a fantastic groundswell of support with people delivering practical things like food and helping with fencing and fodder,” Mrs Chenoweth said.

“There’s also a great level of collaboration going on between all groups in the field which is useful to pass on relevant information straight away about fodder, fencing, advice re financial needs and even emotional support to farmers who are very busy and tired.”

Despite the support, Mrs Chenoweth says the recovery process will be long and tough.

“It’s going to be a long haul,” she said. “It’s going to be a couple of years before people can get back to what we’re calling the new normal; we won’t get back to what it was the day before.”

Mrs Chenoweth, who was also involved in the recovery process after the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires, said farmers were stoic but tired. “The night fires traumatized everybody. It’s amazing no-one was killed by the fires or the traffic in those conditions.”

The fire also triggered bad memories for those affected by Ash Wednesday, which claimed eight lives in the region. “There’s still an active fire zone. People and schools went back around the Cobrico area a week or so ago which was a big plus.”

Mrs Chenoweth said fire crews did an amazing job to protect lives and the recovery process has benefitted from the experiences of Ash Wednesday and other major fires.

The south-west dairy industry also has an industry liaison group, set up after price drop hit, which was able to organise mental health support workers in those first days to chat to affected farmers.

“There was great support ready for deployment from day one,” Ms Chenoweth said.

Her role is to act as a conduit of information and to signpost people to what is required. She has been working with Blaze Aid groups helping to restore fencing in the Terang and Cobden fire regions, and with fodder support agencies.

“We’ve had up to a dozen teams of three or four Blaze Aid people going out every day. They’re doing a huge job which has been a big plus and there are lots of talks and hugs,” Mrs Chenoweth said.

“We’ve had a lot of fodder from the north through the VFF and individual farmers which has been wonderful, and great levels of agistment and cow parking offered. A lot of those practical things kicked in quickly.”

Mrs Chenoweth said cash donations to the South West Fire Appeal would be a good way for farmers and the broader community to continue helping those in need.

“Then farmers will want rain and a reasonable milk price,” she added.

Mrs Chenoweth will work from the Camperdown WestVic Dairy office. The position was created to liaise with farmers, industry bodies and community organisations to facilitate recovery of farms affected by the fires. Mrs Chenoweth can be contacted at WestVic Dairy on 5557 1000 or email