Pomonal rises from the ashes

Pomonal Uniting Church Council member Lynne McKinnon (left) with volunteers and patrons Phil Williams, Anthea Nicholls, and Leonie Hillas.

By Damien Tann

Fire and Pomonal are not uncommon associates.

In 1939 on Black Friday, the orchards and tobacco plantations were burnt out; in 2006 the town survived as an island of green amid the blackened devastation of the Mt Lubra fire.

Then in February this year, 46 houses (plus sheds, fences, and equipment) were destroyed.

A town named for the idyllic beauty and plenty of its fruit does not now lay destroyed, but if you didn’t know any better you might think so, from the view of it on the roads in from Stawell, Ararat and Halls Gap.

In the middle of Pomonal, near the intersection of the Stawell and Ararat roads, stands the Pomonal Community Uniting Church.

The church is still there, despite early rumours of its destruction; while it stands amid rust-coloured dust and blackened trees, stand it does, as do its people.

Pomonal is a community not only in name, but in hope and partnership, and just like the building in the centre of the damaged scrub, the local church is at the centre of the recovering community.

When the community was allowed back to its town on the weekend following evacuation in the face of the fire (which happened on Shrove Tuesday), the first actions of recovery and relief commenced.

Within a week the Pomonal Community Uniting Church was utilised as the Pomonal Relief Hub, a role initially filled by the hall of Stawell Uniting Church, and the space was filled with clothes, food, tools, toiletries, linen, and offers of assistance.

Worship returned to the church only on Palm Sunday, just in time for Easter services, following a shift of the hub to the Pomonal Community Centre along the road.

For six Sundays the congregation met in houses while their chapel was being used for the benefit of all who had need (Acts 2:46-47).

Members of the congregation, Christmas and Easter attendees, and people of other beliefs and faiths worked together for the benefit of all.

Food was donated to those who had none, or no way of cooking, cooling, or storing what they did have.

Food was donated to the volunteers so that fresh cake and coffee sustained those who dealt with the immediate needs of compassion and connection.

Those who were so busy running errands that they couldn’t make it to a supermarket for themselves were encouraged to restock from gifts of others.

Clothing was given to those who had lost theirs, occasionally money would be found as the donor had left “a lobster” or a couple of “pineapples” in a pocket for the next wearer to find.

Consensual hugs were in abundance, and a happy buzz with compassionate undertones was often heard.

When I spoke with some of the staff at the relief hub in the days prior to the shift from Pomonal UCA to the Pomonal hall, I was told that “it is going famously”.

There was excitement about how the community had rallied for itself, how generational-term residents were mixing freely with the newly arrived, and how even the stoic “keep to himself” types were coming down to offer support in the form of smiles and offers of tools and/or hands to wield them.

Much of the fundraising effort was initially collated into one GoFundMe, with oversight from the Pomonal Progress Association and the Pomonal Resilience Group, so that there would be no duplication or division of effort, so that everyone could be accounted for and no one would fall through the gaps.

Following its move the relief hub continues to provide fellowship as well as personal and material support, with Ararat Rural City Council also maintaining a staffed presence in the building to enable local partnerships to be strengthened.

The Pomonal Store remains the central point of the town (as it always has) for catching up with friends and neighbours, and Barneys (the bar and bistro) has hosted several fundraising and fun-raising events in support of community recovery.

“It’s such a great community out here,” I was told, “and it really shows when something like this happens. Many of us remember the fires of 2006 and how we were saved then, now some of us have lost houses and property, but we are all in this together and that’s the main thing.”

Pomonal Community Uniting Church recently sent a card of thanks to Moyston CFA, those who were responsible for standing outside our building and holding a hose on the day of the fire.

As Christians we trust that God was present when our building was saved, yet we cannot fail to acknowledge the work of the local fireys and others who protected our people and our property.

The Act of God seen in Pomonal is not the fire which tore through our town on the day before Ash Wednesday, but in the winds of the Spirit blowing across the hearts of the affected and effective ambassadors of grace and love who have ministered for all of Lent and now into Easter and Pentecost season.

“The need is great, but so is the workforce, and God is greater still.”

Pastor Damien Tann is minister at St Matthew’s Stawell Uniting Church and Pomonal Community Uniting Church



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