Ten years of building fences and friendships

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Fencing volunteers

Alan Stafford and the Fencing Team in action.

Next month the barbecue-stopping stories will be ones of despair, hope and resilience as a Uniting Church volunteer support group commemorates its 10th anniversary in the wake of the devastating Black Saturday bushfires in rural Victoria.

The Uniting Church Emergency Fencing Team helped rebuild thousands of kilometres of farm fences destroyed in the 2009 fires and continue to assist the Benalla community.

This year their reunion annual barbecue is being held on Saturday 16 March and will include testimonials from community members about the emotional impact of the work done by the team.

Uniting Church Emergency Fencing Team committee member Jeanette Tilley said the barbecue was an opportunity for volunteers to reconnect.

“We share a meal, bring each other up to date, and generally have a good time,” she said.

“It is an opportunity for the people who were helped and the volunteers to keep in contact. Also to promote the continuing work done by the team.

“This year being the 10th Anniversary of the Black Saturday fires, an attempt is being made to bring together as many people as possible (volunteers and recipients) who came into contact with each other through the marvellous fencing work done following those fires.”

The Black Saturday bushfires killed 173 people and destroyed 450 hectares of rural Victorian land.

Shortly after the fires, Benalla Uniting Church member and retired farmer Alan Stafford gathered a group of volunteers with the idea of rebuilding fences.

The team grew to about 80 volunteers, with people even travelling from as far away as Queensland to help out.

The UCA’s SHARE Appeals fund donated about $50,000 which allowed the team to buy and hire equipment, speeding up the rebuilding process.

The volunteers offered more than  just a physical help to the affected farmers.

“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,” Alan said.

Alan was recognised for his efforts with an Order of Australia medal in 2017.

When: Saturday 16 March, noon

Where: Saladin Lodge, 1188 Maroondah Highway, Narbethong

Cost: $10 per head for lunch and drinks

RSVP: Chris Cobern 0413 855 490 by Friday 8 March

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