When towns and regions across South East Australia were decimated by the devasting black summer bushfires of 2019/20, thousands of athletes, organisations and citizens across the country leapt to the support of rebuilding communities and supporting displaced Victorians.
Among those committed to providing support was the Trades and Engineering Technology Department at Swinburne University of Technology’s Croydon campus, who formed a partnership with local Rotary Club of Croydon and Montrose and the East Gippsland Rotary Fire Aid Group to assist in recovery efforts.
Swinburne Croydon Strategic projects manager Joel Martin experienced the devastation of the fires while on holiday in East Gippsland in 2019/20, having been evacuated to Eden himself. Through his connection with rotary, Mr Martin saw the project as a way Swinburne could have a social impact.
“For the people that were just traveling through, it was scary so it must have been petrifying for the people who live there. So I guess we saw the impact of fires firsthand,” Mr Martin said.
The result has been the construction of five tool sheds by 15–17 year old students completing their VET secondary schools' program. The sheds will be located next to participating CFA buildings and be used as a community hub for loaning tools to residents who have lost their own tools due to bushfires.
An empowering learning opportunity
Having recently completed their initial construction in Croydon, the sheds have been converted into reconstructable flatpacks and transported to Bairnsdale before they reach their final destinations. As well as providing students with an empowering opportunity to help those in need, the skills students have acquired in constructing the sheds are helping them learn essential techniques needed in the construction of larger homes.
Mr Martin and Building teacher Dave Dekort said that students said the wonderful thing was that building the sheds aligned with what needs to be taught to the students.
“Students are learning framing, roofing and flooring skills necessary to know when building a house. When we reach that unit in the course we would build that part of the shed,” Mr Dekort said.
VET student Caleb said that the chance to work on projects that have a real and widespread impact is a terrific opportunity for students.
“It's super important to give to people who are less fortunate whether it be that they’ve had a tough situation in the past months or their whole lives. We’re so fortunate to have what we have so it feels really nice to be giving back to the community,” said Caleb.
Another student, Jack added that it was exciting to be implementing the skills that they had learned into a broader project.
“Knowing how things work and are put together will just help us in the future. Being able to help people while doing that is really awesome,” he said.
Communities are still grateful for support two years on
While COVID has seen the construction of the sheds undergo countless delays and roadblocks, the sheer magnitude of the disaster has meant that recovery efforts are still underway, with the sheds still set to be put to good use, two years on from when the lasts fires were extinguished.
Peter Sindrey from East-Gippsland Rotary Fire Aid committee spoke on the significant role the sheds will play within the community upon arrival as Rotary continues the replating and rebuilding phase of recovery.
“These tool sheds will help five communities by allowing people to borrow tools as if they were books at a library.”
Having the sheds available will allow people to dramatically increase the capability of communities to begin repairing and rebuilding DIY projects.
“The reality is here we are two years and two months since the fires and we still have people living in makeshift homes, people are still waiting to get their houses built, tradespeople are booked up.”
“The population of Gippsland is very, very, very grateful and they don’t forget the kindness, the resources and the support that have been made available,” Mr Sindrey said.