Drought stricken town opens homes to fire-affected families
IN A show of true Australian spirit an outback Queensland town ravaged by the worst drought in living memory is opening up its doors and homes to victims of the worst Australian bushfires in living memory.
Cunnamulla, located about 800km west of Brisbane in the Paroo Shire, is offering up the town's surplus of vacant homes to bushfire victims from the southern states, with the council working alongside private property owners to create a register of available emergency accommodation.
Like many towns in outback Queensland, vacancy rates for properties in Cunnamulla are high, and Paroo Shire mayor Lindsay Godfrey is looking to make the most of a currently untapped resource to help those affected by the disaster.
"We realise we are a long way from the fires in southeast New South Wales, but among the community there is a feeling that when there is a crisis you should try and do something if you can," Cr Godfrey said.
"While the community here has been in drought for some time, and a lot of people are in serious financial positions because of it, we also have quite a lot of housing that is under-utilised.
"Our population has dropped quite a lot over the last 20 years, and so there is quite a lot of housing in Cunnamulla that is not being rented, or is pretty much empty.
"We were thinking that this might be an opportunity for council to organise the locals, or whoever owns the (vacant) houses, to put them out there," Cr Godfrey said.
"We have put out the call to see if we can link up housing owners with people who are looking for housing, or have no home at all, which is the case for a lot of people in fire-affected areas," Cr Godfrey said.
"It seemed like an opportunity to put the two together, and the community may get some ongoing advantages."
Across New South Wales and Victoria, more than 6 million hectares of land have been impacted by the fires; 22 people are confirmed to have died, and more than 1700 homes have been destroyed.
The move to offer emergency housing to disaster victims is a first for the Paroo Shire Council, but the whole effort will rely on the private owners whose properties are sitting empty across Cunnamulla.
"We haven't done anything like this before, and don't have any council housing available; this will rely on the stock of housing that is either for sale, for rent, or not being occupied," Cr Godfrey said.
"That is the pool we will be looking at, and the council really is acting as a broker, or a catalyst, in this space."
The council will work with the newly-announced National Bushfire Recovery Agency, established on Monday with a promised $2 billion in funding.
It is promised to work with state and local government to facilitate rebuilding and recovery activities.
"We will put together a database of people who have houses, of people who have houses available and are interested in getting involved, and once that is set up we will be in touch with emergency controllers," Cr Godfrey said.
"It is still early days, but we will try to have a list of people with available homes, and be in touch with the proper authorities to arrange the details."
Once the operation is off the ground, the Mayor is confident those displaced by fire could successfully set themselves up again in Cunnamulla, if they choose, and will be welcomed with open arms.
"This is a tragic situation for a lot of people who have lost everything, so we are saying to them 'Cunnamulla is a friendly place, come out and have a look'.
"There is going to be a lot of packages available for people to start again, but you don't just click your fingers and have a house straight away; so this may be a short term solution for some, or it may become a medium or long term move.
"We have great services here in health and education, and all of our other services, which are of a high standard.
"It is just our population has decreased over the last 20 or 30 years, and we have under-utilised services of a high standard, so we are really capable of handling a population influx."
Owners of vacant property in Cunnamulla can register their homes as available for bushfire victims by calling the Paroo Shire Council Staff on 4655 8400, or emailing council CEO Emil Moul at email@example.com.