Rocky Hall preschool battles on following catastrophic summer fire season
Jodie Dickinson runs Rocky Hall preschool, a service which runs on every second Tuesday, and every Wednesday and Friday during school terms. 18 children aged between three and five years of age can be educated and cared for on any given day.
During the bushfires facing her community, along with many others, over the 2019/2020 summer, Jodie also used the preschool as a community relief centre, when fires threatened the surrounding townships as the Border Fire spread into New South Wales from Victoria.
“The fire was huge and people evacuated up to five times. Families were displaced, people were having to find places to put horses and pets … and then the floods came” Jodie told local newspaper The Standard.
Sadly, the fires were not the end of the troubles for the town, with many in the community being, at times, cut off completely, with no roads in or out. Landline phones have been out for weeks, and mobile phone service is non existent.
Jodie explained that there is a satellite dish in the town which is relied on for communication, but that is the only option for staying in touch.
“We’re all exhausted. Tired, headaches – everyone’s totally done” she said. However, even in that space, the preschool remains a community hub. Still functioning as a relief centre, the preschool has helped local families to access assistance from charities, and allowing families to use the kitchen facilities to prepare meals.
“We’ve provided food and water, toiletries, for families to take and vouchers” Jodie explained. While fresh drinking water remains an issue for the town, the preschool keeps a stock of bottled water in the preschool car park, which people are free to take.
As well as physical assistance, the relief centre is a drop in service,where weary locals can come, share stories, and get help to lodge applications for assistance from Government and charity.
“The feedback that I have is that charity is not easy to ask for. So if we provide it here there’s more trust and confidentiality. They trust us, we don’t judge, they can take what they need” Jodie told The Standard.
Perhaps they trust Jodie because she is a local, who also lost her home to fire, in 1992. She spoke about the sense of pride, and humiliation, which comes with asking for a hand. There is another, larger relief centre in Wyndham, but Jodie believes people feel safer to stay close to home, valuing the privacy of their close knit community.
One core message Jodie shared with The Standard was the sense that while the fires may be out, the issues remain, and the town is feeling forgotten, with bigger communities receiving attention during and after the disaster.