Arising from the 1977/78 bushfires in the Gippsland area was the need to provide emergency assistance to Gippsland people.
A public meeting was called at the Armadale Reception Centre Sale and the Gippsland Bushfire Relief Fund was formed on the 6th December 1978. The meeting identified a strong need for a fund to provide immediate financial assistance to victims in a bushfire situation.
The fund focused on personal losses such as people’s immediate requirements for food, clothing, utensils, furniture, bedding, children’s educational needs, etc. as distinct from capital items covered by insurance or Government grants.
Australian Paper Manufacturer’s Ltd, who had extensive interests in Gippsland and a genuine interest in being a good corporate citizen, offered to support and help the Fund. It provided legal and administrative support and a $5,000 per annum contribution for the first three years.
The original motto of the fund was “those who benefit from Gippsland are asked to plough something back into the area which supports them”.
GERF has been and is a wholly volunteer operation. The Volunteer Committee includes local people with roles in emergency response and recovery from state government, local government, private industry and community representatives.
The current President is a former CEO of Gippsland Water. It is a unique regionally based Fund in Victoria with well established procedures in handling public appeals for emergencies and their disbursements.
In February 1983, the fund was called to assist victims of the Ash Wednesday bushfires. The fund only had $29,000. The local Channel 8 TV/3TR helped launch an appeal and $200,000 was collected in a matter of hours.
GERF made available $120,000 for immediate relief to families that were burnt out of their homes and then followed up with further assistance on the basis of a means test. The fund provided financial assistance to 465 families.
Since then the Fund has provided millions of dollars in assistance and expanded its role to cover bushfires, floods and storms in Gippsland. This included a combined $835,000 for floods that hit Gippsland in 1990, 1993 and 1998. The Fund provided $150,000 in assistance for the East Gippsland Bushfires in 2002/2003 and 2003/2004. In the summer of 2006/07 Gippsland experienced the Great Divide Bushfires which burnt for 69 days and covered over 1.1 million hectares. This fire complex destroyed 14 homes, 12 woolsheds, 136 outbuildings, over 1000 agricultural animals and thousands of hectares of farmland and fencing. The Fund provided over $250,000 in financial assistance to 181 impacted families and farmers. Support donations to the Fund included all the proceeds of a Comedy Bushfire Benefit Concert for Gippsland held on 7th February, 2007 at the National Theatre in Melbourne by Triple M. Shortly after the bushfire in March, unusually heavy rain fell in the Macalister Catchment resulting in mudslides and damaged to already bushfire affected communities. Associated flash flooding also severely impacted homes in Traralgon. The Fund provided additional financial assistance to impacted families.
In late June 2007 Gippsland then experienced its largest flood event since 1998. Record flood levels occurred in eight major river systems and resulted in 30 people from the township of Newry being airlifted to safety. The floods impacted 1530 farms, damaged 168 homes, killed 2469 sheep and 1336 cattle. Including support of state and federal government and a major donation from a Melbourne based philanthropic trust the Fund was able to distribute over $550,000 to 254 families and farmers and 16 small rural businesses. These disbursements occurred across four local government areas. These appeals ran consecutively and the 2007 Flood appeal was the second largest in GERF’s history. We received widespread community support and worked closely with all recovery agencies to ensure our funds were co-ordinated, needs based and made on an equitable basis.
The horrific 2009 Black Saturday Fires in Gippsland have since proved to be the Fund’s largest and most complex appeal. This resulted in financial assistance to 856 families with over $4.1M in aid to the impacted communities. None of this aid would be possible without the continuing wonderful and generous support of the whole of the Gippsland community.
Since 2009, several bushfire events and one flood event have, once again, seen hundreds of grants from the fund.
Rapid GERF grants have complemented government personal hardship grants and for many people have provided an important lifeline in a crisis.