Honoured for mending fences and lives

Alan Stafford now has the official title of OAM to add his to unofficial one of “chief stirrer” at Benalla Uniting Church.

Mr Stafford was awarded the Order of Australia Medal in the Australia Day honours for his work in establishing and coordinating a volunteer project to rebuild fences in the wake of the devastating 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.

“I am pleased that project has got recognition,” Mr Stafford said of the award, adding he was personally “quite honoured”.

“I didn’t think we would have such an impact on people’s lives.

“It’s also had a great impact on my life. It’s been a real two-way street.”

The emergency fencing team has helped restore approximately 150 properties hit by natural disasters and built thousands of kilometres of fencing. But, perhaps more importantly, it has provided timely support for those in despairing situations.

“The psychology of fixing and getting beside people is a physical sign to get people re-motivated,” Mr Stafford said.

“The important thing is to be on the job, there with them. It can be unbelievable the way that has changed mindsets and helped with the mental side of things.”

Being a good listener while working with someone can be a great way to emotionally help those who were uncomfortable with the more formal types of counselling, Mr Stafford said.

The fencing team is made up off volunteers from all over Victoria and other states.

It includes farmers, service organisations, inmates from correctional centres, asylum seekers, school groups and many more.

Mr Stafford, who is a retired livestock transporter, said he had made many great friendships out of the project.

He  nominated Rev David Howie and Colin Thomson as people who were instrumental in getting the group up and running, while Mr Stafford also was keen to highlight the support that Share and Rotary have provided.

As a long-time member of Benalla Uniting Church, who has also been an elder and congregation chair, Mr Stafford said his continuing role would be as “chief stirrer”.

This means he comes up with “ideas outside the square”, such as the dog show that ran for many years.

Another example he cited happened after repairing a fence on a property with a lot of horses. To the disbelief of some of those he was working with, Mr Stafford decided to ask for one as a donation.

A local trainer who remembered Mr Stafford helping a friend with a property in Buxton, and so offered to break in the horse for nothing.

The animal was then sold for $3000 with all that money going to the fencing project.




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