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Drought recovery takes different paths

December 02nd, 2020

The rains might have come to eastern Australia, but the drought isn’t over. Parts of Queensland, northern South Australia and south-west Western Australia in particular show little signs of the drought easing. Across rural and regional Australia, the complex legacy of devastating bushfires and the virus pandemic have added to the urgency of drought-affected communities trying to rebuild and recover.

Injune District Tourism Association, QLD (before photo) - C17 Locomotive Restoration and Preservation - Awarded $10,000 TTTT grant in Oct 2019 - To boost tourism and stimulate local economy via restoration of historically significant locomotive display.

The latest round of grants from the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal’s Tackling Tough Times Together (4T) program reveals the impacts this combination of natural disasters and a global health crisis has had beyond the cities’ boundaries.

Last month Tackling Tough Times Together received the 2020 Australian Philanthropy Award for best grant program. This week, it announced almost $1.5 million in grants across 41 separate community projects for drought-affected communities.

Nina O’Brien, Disaster Resilience & Recovery Lead for FRRR, says there has been a gradual increase in the dollar value of applications for the 4T grants, indicating an emerging requirement for potentially more costly infrastructure projects in the recovery phase.

“Priorities for communities shift as they move into recovery,’’ Nina says. “What I’m seeing is a trend towards infrastructure.’’

That can take a range of forms, such as a $110,000 grant to Aldersyde Agricultural Hall in Western Australia to upgrade to the kitchen, toilet (outdoor), water storage, veranda and parking. The small community in the West Australian wheatbelt identified the need to increase accessibility and reduce volunteer fatigue by upgrading the hall.

“The pandemic has added extra financial strain to communities already dealing with drought, adding to the pressure felt by many local groups, including very fatigued volunteers,’’ Nina says. “Community cohesion plays such an important role in drought recovery and COVID-19 restrictions have only exacerbated the social isolation and disengagement that many of these communities have been working hard to tackle.’’

The practical consequence is that the pandemic has restricted many communities that relied on fundraising through street stalls from generating the funds that would usually be directed to local projects. The need for such work has not gone away but the capacity to raise the money to do something about it has been impacted.

As Nina points out, in tough times, it can be difficult for communities to find the emotional energy to resolve such challenges.

Injune District Tourism Association, QLD (after photo) - C17 Locomotive Restoration and Preservation - Awarded $10,000 TTTT grant in Oct 2019 - To boost tourism and stimulate local economy via restoration of historically significant locomotive display.

This grant round features a range of initiatives that combine economic development with arts and culture to help build social cohesion and reduce isolation. “Reducing social isolate takes many and different forms,’’ Nina says. One of the grants will help with the creation and installation of billboards featuring local Aboriginal artwork from the Atitjere Community (Harts Range) erected on the Plenty Highway in the Northern Territory.

Increasing educational participation is behind a grant to support the provision of bee hives for Students of the Air in the Port Augusta region as part of an innovative approach to engage kids across disparate communities.

“In spite of the difficulties, we are inspired by the many local organisations that persistently work to develop the places where they live. These groups are so resilient and continue to find ways to seed and strengthen, adapt and evolve, and innovate and renew their community,’’ Nina says.

“Despite recent rain in some places, we know the effects of long-term rainfall deficits don’t just disappear. It takes 18 to 24 months of sustained average rainfalls for communities to finally be able to move beyond the immediate impacts of drought,’’ Nina explains.

“Most communities have had nowhere near this amount of rain – and many have had none at all, which is why communities still need support.’’

A full list of grants recipients is available on FRRR’s website.

Tackling Tough Times Together is possible thanks to the collaborative support of several donors, including the Australian Government which committed $15M to be distributed over three years. Generous contributions have also been made by Pratt Foundation, Stockland CARE Foundation, Paul Ramsay Foundation, The Snow Foundation, Tim Fairfax Family Foundation, Henroth Group and private donors from across the nation.

Applications for the TTTT program are always open and groups in areas currently drought-affected, or that have been affected in the last 18 months, are encouraged to apply for funding support.

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