ETU assists Rappville recovery from horrific bushfires

The ETU has donated $40K from our National Bushfire Relief Fund towards the community of Rappville, a town that was badly damaged by the bushfires last summer. The northern NSW town lost 23 homes in the fires and one of two local sawmills.

The funds will go towards a local bus for the school and community which will help give more kids access to the school and facilitate community events and projects, breaking a cycle of social, educational and community isolation.

Dave Newby is President of the Rappville social club, a club that was established 35 years ago by a group of local friends. Dave came up with the idea for the bus with local Principal of the primary school, Kat Collis, to help assist the community in bouncing back after a year that has brought crisis after crisis. He and others in the social club have worked together to try and raise enough funds for the bus and have been astounded by the generosity from the Australian community and from our Union.

“You’ve done so much. We can’t thank you enough,” he said.

Alongside the ETU, the Maritime Union of Australia also donated $10K, helping the club get even closer to their target. They are currently about $20K away from purchasing a 22-seater bus with wheelchair access.

Ruth Plummer, publicity officer of the social club who also runs the local post office is heartened by the progress they’ve made already.

“We’re a small community with big ideas and the determination to make it work,” she said.

The ETU first heard about Rappville’s story from local delegate Peter Glasby and organiser Steve Magann. National Secretary Allen Hicks brought the idea to the Divisional Executive Committee and then worked out the details with Mr Newby and the social club. The funds came directly from the ETU National’s Bushfire Relief fund, which was established in January 2020 to assist members who had lost their homes and give ETU members and affiliates a way to help others.

“Coming from a trade union background we really appreciate the sense of community, so that’s why this opportunity to make a difference stood out,” said Allen.

International unions also generously contributed to the Bushfire Relief Fund including local branches 66, 570, 661 and 527 of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), International Union of Elevator Constructors (IUEC) and local branches Northwest 9/0541 and SC/164/BAE  of Unite the Union (Unite).

The bushfires that devastated the community happened in early October 2019. Many people in the community didn’t evacuate but instead chose to fight and protect their homes. Though it was extremely dangerous, they would have otherwise lost everything. Dave and others stayed up throughout the night putting out spot fires.

“I ended up in hospital at about four in the morning because the smoke had hurt my eyes so badly that I couldn’t see,” said Dave.

Because of their heroic efforts, and the incredible fire service, most of the buildings in town like the school, pub and post office were saved.

Sadly, the community hall and one of two major sawmills did burn down during the fires. The mill was a key source of employment in the area and was a major producer of the cross arm wooden poles which hold up the electrical wires.

During the fire hundreds of power poles and lines were burnt leaving the residents disconnected, but the community were impressed by the local essential power workers, including many ETU members from Essential Energy who restored the power within just a few days. Doug Walsh who is Vice President of the Rappville social club wrote the following message of thanks to ETU members:

“On behalf of the people of Rappville and surrounds, I would like to say a huge thank you to the Essential Energy members of the ETU for the massive effort after the fires to restore power to the village.

I think something in excess of 300 poles, transformers and associated works were replaced and power restored to the village in about five days.

Once again a massive thank you to all involved in this. I know it was greatly appreciated by all.” – Doug Walsh

Now the town is focusing on rebuilding their lives and their community. Since the fires pushed some of the residents out of the town, those left are focused on bringing them back and attracting more people to their community.

Dave hopes that the bus will help encourage more kids living in rural areas nearby to attend the local primary school and in turn attract more families to settle in Rappville. The primary school currently has nine students, increasing to 12 next year. 

“I want to rebuild the community from the kids up. More kids will encourage people to move back the community and that will bring back jobs,” he said. 

Dave is full of creative ways to use the bus, such as taking kids to swimming, bringing retirees to bingo and even transporting people in from surrounding areas to Rappville’s local pub for karaoke nights.

They hope to purchase the bus early next year once they reach their funding target and work out some logistics with drivers and the local bus network.

A huge thanks to all ETU members and their friends and families who donated to the bushfire fund. Stay tuned for an update when the bus arrives.

Pictured: Dave Newby and other members of the Rappville Social Club thank Allen Hicks and Steve Magann for the donation. 

Pictured: Rappville residents put out messages of thanks to the essential service workers who helped them fight the fires and restore their community.

Pictured: The Rappville primary school hopes to attract more students next year. 

Pictured: ETU National Secretary Allen Hicks and ETU NSW organiser Steve Magann with the Rappville social club. 

This article was publised on 21 December 2020.