Taree – Tree by the River
Located 300kms south of Sydney, the historical town of Taree lies at the centre of the Manning Valley, abundant with rich natural resources.
The name Taree comes from the traditional custodians of the land, the Biripi people. Derived from the word ‘tareebit’ meaning tree by the river, it speaks to the ancient Sandpaper Figs that wind their way alongside the banks of the Manning River.
From the wilds of its National Parks and subtropical rainforest, to sprawling farmlands and picturesque riverside, Taree is home to a growing population and significant agricultural interest.
It was here in Taree in late 2019 that locals found themselves facing catastrophic firestorms that raged across the region for weeks on end, destroying houses, farmlands and livelihoods.
The NSW 2019/20 fire season saw millions of hectares of bush and farmland raised and whole townships displaced as firefighters and volunteers raced to save lives and property.
Community Spirit Takes Flight
Local CHESS Connect ParentsNext Mentor Mandy Bradley was in Taree during and after the bushfires to see how the community came together during extraordinary times.
“It was really amazing how the community came together during the bushfires, people in town opened their doors to friends for however long they needed.”
The showgrounds opened for people who were unable to go home. Many members of the community started donating their time, food and essentials to the families who had been evacuated, some so quickly they were unable to take anything with them as they left. Community groups and volunteers banded together to create a supportive and safe environment in the face of disaster.
The concern and praise for emergency services was everywhere, with people donating what they could even down to eye drops and Vaseline for the firefighters who worked so tirelessly even when they were exhausted.
After the fires, neighbourhood centres, community and church groups stepped up to provide information and assistance. Strong alliances were forged, offering many inclusive activities for locals, helping support a sense of hope, renewal and connection.
Mandy remembers a global church from Forster/Tuncurry who dropped in and asked if they could help cut down burnt trees.
“They said they had been talking that morning and wanted to do something to help. So they decided to grab their chainsaws, head out and door knock!
We spent the afternoon cutting and piling wood from trees burnt but not fallen. We then followed up with a cup of tea and nibbles on the veranda – laughing, talking and connecting – a very special time. It was these moments of peace and laughter when sitting down with cuppa and chatting that helped us forget about the devastation and the huge job of rebuilding that loomed ahead.”
It wasn’t just community groups chipping in to help either. Individuals and families were posting to social media, finding out where they could help. Families outside of the fire zone opened up their homes to those who has lost theirs or couldn’t return. People came together to organise hay and water deliveries for cattle, horses and pets and a campaign ran where members of the community could ‘buy a bale’ which was then donated and delivered to the areas that needed them.
A Community in Quarantine
COVID-19 came along close to when the local community was getting ‘back to normal’ after the bushfires. The pandemic restrictions were particularly hard for parents and families with young and school aged children now confined to their homes.
The CHESS Connect ParentsNext team was there to assist with care packs and resources for study to take place in the home. ParentsNext is a program that helps parents engage with their community and prepare for employment by the time their children transition to school. Our mentors do this by connecting with eligible parents and providing resources and frameworks for parents to participate in social and community activities, access training, education and work experience.
Mentor Mandy Bradley remembers her time engaging with parents during the pandemic.
“The biggest thing I noticed was the majority of the parents we support were still active. There seemed to be more time for virtual appointments and a lot of calls turned into a check in and catch up as people were feeling either socially isolated or happy to be locked down but really enjoying a chat.”
Connection and access to mental health supports and affordable housing continues to be a challenge after the bushfire crisis and the ongoing impacts of the pandemic – especially for those who prefer face to face or group contact.
During conversations with parents and families, Mandy was also able to pick up if anything seemed unusual, such as suspected domestic violence or substance abuse, and provide a safe space for discussion.
“Throughout this time I felt more depth and connection with the contact I made with local families. Probably because we had all had the shared trauma of the bushfires and the pandemic.”
Mandy’s experience is just one of many from Taree where recovery within the region is still taking place. Grassroot community groups, as well as established organisations like CHESS Connect continue initiatives support and bring the community together.
Interested in ParentsNext? Enquire about your eligibility today.