Graeme Haycraft & Jeremy Wilshire on Mental Health Support, Keeping Community Spirit High & Access to Recovery Resources

Mental Health Support, Keeping Community Spirit High & Access to Recovery Resources

This week on the podcast, we present episode three of the Southern NSW, Visitor Economy Bushfire Recovery Summit – Podcast Series. The episode begins with a chat I have with Graeme Haycraft.  Graeme was instrumental in leading the tourism recovery efforts on behalf of the Murrindindi and Mitchell Shire Councils, after the Black Saturday Fires of 2009. Graeme shares some great advice, based on his own experience in crisis management and disaster recovery processes.

In the second half of the podcast, I  talk with Jeremy Wilshire, the Major Events Manager for Destination Wollongong. Jeremy was the MC at the Bushfire Recovery Summit. Throughout the event, Jeremy encouraged attendees to contribute their ideas to an action wall. These ideas were discussed at the summit and provided to the appropriate government organisations as feedback. We discuss some of this feedback during our chat.

Mental Health Support

Graeme grew up in the Kinglake and Marysville areas,  devastated by the 2009 Black Saturday Fires. He returned to the area to assist in the bushfire recovery process. Graeme shares a firsthand account of his experience and the knowledge gained through his involvement. In particular, Graeme describes the need for adequate emotional support for people affected by the fires. Graeme explains how the lengthy period over which the catastrophe unfolded, wreaked havoc within the communities. People were evacuated multiple times, with the end result being widespread devastation. People were and still are traumatised, enduring unpredictable and extreme, high and low levels of emotion. Graeme stresses the need for appropriate emotional and mental support for people during times of crisis.

Keeping Community Spirit High

Graeme provides some insights into why it is imperative to keep the spirits of community members elevated. He describes how, due to the nature of the disaster, everywhere residents looked, all they saw was devastation. To combat the sense of helplessness, events were organised to temporarily distract people from the hardships they faced, and provide them with moments of happiness. Graeme shares stories of surprise concerts put on by international bands and special guest appearances at community gatherings. These types of events did wonders for the community, significantly lifting the spirits of everyone who attended and providing a sense of hope for the future.

Access to Recovery Resources

Jeremy and I have a great chat around the action wall that was created by summit delegates. We agree that a major concern for attendees of the summit was access to support and resources. Jeremy reiterates the need for operators to be proactive in their approach to recovery, by seeking out available support. He acknowledges that there may be restrictions on the type of assistance available, but urges business owners to explore the options. Jeremey provides a comprehensive list of places people can begin their search, such as Service NSW and local business support organisations.

The over-arching message from all the speakers on the day, was not to wait for funding support. Due to the sheer size of the area directly and indirectly affected by the bushfires, there may not be enough funding to support everyone’s needs. Instead, communities are encouraged to work together to attract visitors back to their regions, and take advantage of local, regional, state and national promotional campaigns. Jeremy encourages business owners to do the ground work and research what’s available.  People should try and tap into a combination of programs that are being run. Whether it be from the private sector or public sector, there are avenues of assistance and it’s up to each operator to decide which ones are most relevant to them.

Links to resources and additional information

Listen to the podcast episode via this link