Australia– Kilmore East farmer Kevin Butler believes in the power of volunteers in Australia.
He has seen first-hand how the huge response to help those struggling after the Black Saturday bushfires can be more effective than any government assistance.
Mr Butler is the founder of Blaze Aid, an organisation that helps rebuild fencing destroyed in the fires.
He has worked with more than 3,500 volunteers from across Australia and around the world for the past nine months building fences destroyed in the February 7th bushfires.
They have completed 400 kilometres of fencing on 70 properties around the state.
Mr Butler says the project is now winding down. This weekend volunteers and property owners will get together for a reunion BBQ to celebrate their work.
Mr Butler told ABC Radio’s Jon Faine, that he and his wife Rhonda got involved because the Black Saturday fires started just 500 metres from their farm and they knew a lot of people in the region who had been burnt out.
“I was very emotionally involved with the people who helped me rebuild my fences,” he said.
“AI thought, well if I feel like this with all these volunteers helping me, how are hundreds of people going to feel if I muster a lot volunteers to help them?”
“That’s exactly what happened. It became addictive. The volunteers themselves became so elated and inspired by helping people right throughout Kinglake and Strathewen, St Andrews, and Glenburn, even as far as Narbethong at the moment,” he said.
Nine months on and he still wakes up every morning to see up to 100 people gathering by his woolshed to set off for a day of fence building.
“I think that I didn’t realise the power of volunteerism in Australia.”
“Blaze Aid was a mechanism or a conduit so we could tap into the energies of thousands of people who just wanted to help people who’d lost homes,” he said.
Mr Butler says he and his wife have “somehow found the energy” to continue coordinating Blaze Aid because they both believe it serves a purpose bigger than their own farm and business.
While pondering over the bureaucratic delays in the rebuilding, Kevin Butler says he discovered that the power of Australians does not lie in governments.
“I don’t really feel that they’ve got the structure, the leadership, the passion, the model to have an enduring type of rebuilding program,” he said.
“Volunteerism will help rebuild Australia when we have catastrophes like this.”
Kevin and Rhonda Butler have been nominated in the Local Hero category, of the Australian of the Year awards for their bushfire recovery work.