Jo Andrews, a Natural Environment Program Officer at DELWP

This is my story

'My name is Jo Andrews, I am a Natural Environment Program Officer with FFR Gippsland. I also happen to be a Sarsfield resident and Secretary of the Sarsfield Community Reserve and Hall Committee of Management… and this is my story.

Sarsfield, a small community of about 270 properties, was impacted by the fires on 30 December 2019. Hundreds of properties were affected and some of those were lost.

Lucky for our community, the fire stopped about 100 metres short of the Sarsfield Community Reserve and Hall, making it an ideal place to support Sarsfield community in its recovery from fires.

Now, I don’t have a fire role at DELWP, my normal duties were effectively suspended due to fires, our home wasn’t fire impacted, and with my husband and 3 young kids evacuated to relatives, I found myself with some spare time to help… it started with a phone call and snow-balled from there.

Within days of the fire, the Sarsfield hall became an ‘unofficial’ gathering place for community, a safe place to share stories, have a cuppa and seek support. Sarsfield locals, both fire and non-fire affected, generously gave their time and energy to help out their neighbours.

Friday night feeds

Since those first days, we have provided over 100 relief packages to fire impacted homes, opened the hall daily to the community for 3 weeks, organised a community catch up and BBQ (with over 300 locals coming along) and met over 230 of our Sarsfield neighbours. We are now hosting regular ‘Friday night feeds’ for our community - all food is provided – our first dinner was a roast, with 100 locals coming along to enjoy it, this week the Filipino Community of East Gippsland are cooking for us and next week it is the Turkish community of Melbourne.

We have set up a Facebook page to get the word out about what we are doing, but with so many people displaced we’ve found the ‘bush-telegraph’ to be the most effective way to achieve this.

We are now in the process of establishing a community bushfire recovery sub-committee for Sarsfield and linking in with fire recovery agencies and charities to help us move forward and rebuild.

For me, it has been an amazing, rewarding, tiring and inspiring experience being in the middle of all this and I feel incredibly privileged to be part of our strong, resilient and supportive Sarsfield community. It has taken me to unexpected places –like talking about roast dinners on the radio and getting up before dawn to be a ‘Sunrise Morning show groupie’ and have my 30 seconds of fame talking about what we are doing in Sarsfield.

My focus is now shifting back to my family and my work at DELWP, but the desire to help my community has not lessened, and I look forward to continuing my involvement however I can - even if it means eating yummy dinners and socialising with my friendly neighbours on Friday nights.'

Page last updated: 14/02/20