Fire Shed Fridays: Bringing the community together in the Tumut Region

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Nestled at the foothills of the Snowy Mountains on the traditional lands of the Wiradjuri, Wolgalu and Ngunnawal people, the Tumut Region is blessed with immense natural beauty and warm, welcoming local communities – but over the last few years, it has seen more than its share of difficulty. The Black Summer of 2019/20 hit the region particularly hard, and many of the men were away fighting fires along the East Coast for much of the preceding year.

Founded in 2004, the Tumut Region Community Foundation has been working hard to support locals for over 15 years, but the last couple of years have been their most challenging. They even changed their constitution in order to be able to service the entire council area, bringing their influence to more residents of the region – such was the scale of need. Now, in the aftermath of that devastating summer and the pandemic that swept in shortly after, they have found an unexpected way to support many of those still recovering from the trauma.

Louise Halsey, Chair of the Foundation and all-round advocate for the Tumut Region, has been working closely with her team of volunteers, the Murrumbridge Local Health District, and local fire sheds, to organise Fire Shed Fridays – a little way of saying ‘thank you’ to those who risked so much for the residents of the region. This endeavour has also been made possible with financial support from Global Giving, the Fremantle Foundation’s Fire Fund, and FRRR.

The concept is simple and was inspired by a series of high teas that the Foundation had previously held for women in the region, “leading the blokes to ask, ‘what about us?’” says Louise. Held every Friday at a different fire shed somewhere in the region, the series of lunches is partially managed by the local health group – who “do all the groundwork” – directed by the local fire chief, who decides how it is run, and pulled together by the Foundation, who set everything up and put on the spread.

Key to the success of Fire Shed Fridays has been how unexpected it is for the local community, who often think it is just going to be a BBQ. Far from it. The Foundation set out the tables in each shed with tablecloths and a centrepiece display, often featuring regrowth from burnt trees, the Eskis are fully iced, and volunteers dress in a red and white striped apron. With the surroundings transformed, a representative from the Foundation kicks off each proceeding by thanking the men not only for what they have done, but “for what they will do,” and the community enjoys a good feed, a drink, and a heart-to-heart.

The events have been a great success – but a lot of work. It’s all worth it though, says Louise: the “benefits far outweigh the costs” and have contributed to reinvigorating the Foundation in the area. It’s a powerful reminder that crisis relief and recovery can take many forms but are at their strongest when led by and for the community.

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