Reclink Play Pivotal Role in Adelaide Hills Bushfire Recovery

20240207 125859
3 weeks ago

More than four years on from the devastating bushfires that scarred the Adelaide Hills’s region, Brukunga residents say their small town is stronger than ever thanks to Reclink, but support is still needed across the region.

When Reclink first stepped into the small community of Brukunga in South Australia after the 2019 bushfires, they found a community that was disconnected and hurting.

Reclink’s trauma-informed approach enabled sports coordinator Jodie Mitchell to walk alongside the Brukunga community to understand the frustrations and delays in their recovery process and create opportunities for reconnection through a range of sport, and arts activities that focused on social inclusion and wellbeing.

Angie Mitchell, Reclink’s Acting Sport and Recreation Manager - South Australia, says Reclink’s strategy not only provided opportunities for reconnection, but also supported the community to formalise a legal community association, a powerful legacy for Reclink to bestow.

“The Brukunga Community Association is now writing, applying and have been successful for their own grants to update their facilities and services at the centre. That, along with the programs we have hosted for the region, has made a huge impact and will leave an incredible hole,” Ms Mitchell said.

Brukunga community association member Kelly Northey says Reclink’s approach to helping the community through targeted activities is responsible for strengthening ties within the community.

“Reclink is unique. What we found in our community was that with mental health workshops, people were too stoic to take up that targeted help. But when the support comes in masked as something else, like Reclink activities, people have engaged and benefited in a far better way than rehashing their personal story to a professional,” she said.

“We found in the community that while people felt there was still stigma attached to attending mental health workshops, if an art class or morning tea was offered instead, it was far more well attended and consequently beneficial.”

Heidi Sowerby, local Brukunga cattle producer and community association chairperson, says Reclink’s commitment to community consultation, and connectedness to a range of stakeholders, were pivotal to the region’s recovery process.

“Words can’t describe the support that Reclink has shown us,” she said.

“When Jodie turned up at our initial community meeting and asked ‘what can I do to help?’, we suddenly had funding opportunities to creatively bring the community together.”

Reclink established a range of activities in Brukunga, including children’s basketball sessions with a coach, and social art classes.

Ms Sowerby says the sport and art classes have been a hit with the community.

“The activities Reclink is undertaking is the start of something beautiful. It is encouraging old and young to get together. And Reclink is pivotal in making that happen.”

Reclink has worked alongside Mount Barker Local Council and other stakeholders to activate the local hall, which had been underutilized before the bushfires.

“Through Reclink’s work, it feels like the town has a place that is ours again after decades of disengagement,” Ms Northey said.

While the Federal Government Black Summer Bushfire Recovery funding finished at the end of March 2024, Brukunga community association members recognize that their recovery process is not yet complete, and they say the community is still in need of support.

The bushfire funding also supported popular gym programs, and activities for a range of demographics, including for home-school students.

Nathan Hart, Leisure Manager at Belgravia Adelaide Hills Recreational Centre, says the partnership between Reclink and the Mt Barker Centre has been incredibly beneficial to the community, and the funding gap will have repercussions across all demographics of the community.

“Reclink’s support in activating spaces that are not otherwise being used, has had huge benefits across the community,” Mr Hart said.

“Working with Jodie, we identified gaps in the home school groups, and we created opportunities for martial arts, pickleball, and basketball, among others.”

Mr Hart says Reclink’s support in expanding activities to other demographics has shown a significant increase in the wellbeing of those participants.

“For those people who come through our Reclink programs, they absolutely love it. There’s nothing else there for them like this,” he said.

Mr Hart says Reclink participants will miss the sporting, health and wellbeing programs that finished at the end of March.

“To lose this program is devastating. The programs with Reclink target seniors, people in rehab, home school learners, and others who can’t believe such high-quality programs exist for free. It’s a much-needed service in our community.”

Brukunga community association’s Diana Webber agrees that Reclink has made an important contribution in the township’s bushfire recovery, but there is still much to be done.

“It’s like the town is living again,” she said. “But there will be a huge hole when funding stops. After the fires, people were still in shock and dealing with rebuilding. Then there was Covid and the bushfire response was put on the backburner. Now that we are at a stage where we are going full steam ahead, we need a continuation in funding, not an end to the funding.”

“It is so vital to have Reclink to reengage and give people something to look forward to, it is just so important to smaller communities.”

In recollecting that fateful day of December 19th, 2019, Ms Northey remembers being taken by surprise at the ferocity of the bushfire. “It was freaky, eerie weather. Nobody expected that level of danger. It was like we were in a movie as we evacuated in almost zero visibility and ferocious winds. I still can’t believe it.”

Ms Northey says communication within the town is now much stronger after the bushfires, after Reclink-supported social gatherings enabled neighbours to meet each other for the first time.

“Brukunga started out as a mining town, with a real sense of community. It feels like we are bringing that back, after a long history of disconnect,” she said.

Article: Callista Cooper.

Image credits: Angie Mitchell.

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