By Danielle Kutchel
On Wednesday nights, the Tonimbuk Hall is where it’s at for fire-affected residents.
The hall, which has acted as a hub for the community during recovery efforts, hosts weekly dinners from 6.00pm for residents to come together and spend time with their neighbours.
Over the winter months these dinners were held inside, but with the weather warming up, outdoor barbecues are the way to go.
In true Aussie style, everyone brings a plate to share, and volunteers pitch in to help cook and clean afterwards.
Emphasising the fact that each person has a place in the community, birthdays are announced and celebrated each week, along with any important announcements for residents.
Moira Laming, a Lions Club volunteer, has donated much of her time running the Wednesday night dinners.
She’s hard to catch, because everyone makes a point of talking to Ms Laming, thanking her for another wonderful dinner and wishing her a good night.
She does it because it’s “heart-warming” and because she enjoys serving her community.
In the initial aftermath of the fires she offered to help with admin, but eventually found herself coordinating catering at the hall.
“I had no doubt in my mind that we were here for the long haul,” she explains.
“I wasn’t going to down tools and leave council and the local community without the support they needed for the meals!”
She says it’s not uncommon for residents to continue talking long into the night, even after the last dish has been cleared.
“This is community,” she says.
While it’s a place for people to connect and chew the fat, around the campfire grievances are also aired.
Some residents express fear of the upcoming bushfire season, while others speak of the red tape surrounding volunteering in the recovery and the lack of support they feel they’re receiving from the government.
Residents are at different stages of recovery, with many now seeking permits to rebuild their houses. For some, the clean-up is continuing still.
Others acknowledge that although the fires were devastating, strong community bonds have been formed in its wake. Now, neighbours are best friends, having been through hell and back together – and the dinners are just another excuse to catch up.
“It’s one of those situations where you meet someone and say “how ya going”, and an hour and a half later you’re still taking to them,” says local Danny Hower, who himself is catching up with some mates and fellow volunteers.
“There’s a real sense of community now.”
Robert Rolley is another visitor, a representative of church volunteers who maintain a presence at the hall during mealtimes to simply listen to people and provide any support that they can.
“It’s been interesting seeing the community start to stand up themselves,” he explains.
“People are starting to feel that sense of cohesion. They’ve still got a long road ahead of them but they’re not alone and people do understand and will support them.”