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East Gippsland comes together after two long years


After a few tough years, East Gippsland finally comes together over two big nights featuring Australian legend, Paul Kelly.

Paul Kelly plays guitar to a crowd at night during the recharge concert

Long, dark days have been withstood
Now there’s a change in the neighbourhood
Finally something good.

Paul Kelly, Finally Something Good

Something good finally came to the East Gippsland community in March in the form of Australia’s premier singer Paul Kelly. Along with his band and some strong support acts, they gave locals an unforgettable night out in both Buchan and Mallacoota.

The two gigs were part of the Rural Recharge program and allowed the East Gippsland community to take a well-deserved break in stunning late summer weather.

Launched by the Victorian Government in 2019 with an initial $750,000 grant in response to severe droughts and then expanded due to the 2020 bushfires, the Rural Recharge program has provided welcome relief on top of the additional pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic.

East Gippsland Shire Council Mayor Cr Mark Reeves said that for Mallacoota and many East Gippsland towns the past two years have been “a traumatic and difficult time”.

“This town has been fire drought affected, it’s been drought affected and it’s been COVID-19 affected,” he said.

“People have been really hurting in this part of the world and Rural Recharge and events like this helps to glue communities back together.”

“Over the past couple of years, we haven’t had the opportunity to get people together to actually talk, share stories, and then to listen to some of the best music in the country.”

Long-time Mallacoota resident Carol Hopkins has struck it lucky. She’s a big fan of both ARIA Hall of Fame singer and songwriter Paul Kelly and key band members Vikka and Linda Bull.

“I love all the Paul Kelly songs - I’m excited to have a dance and just come together as a community,” she said.

“It was so obvious to me just watching our town how much we need to be together and how much we’ve missed each other.

“With this concert it’s just been so great for us to have something like this to look forward to.”

Support acts Gordi, Rusty Berther and Gippsland’s own Harry Hookey proved very popular support acts at the two concerts, which were restricted to each area’s local communities. Revellers also enjoyed free food and refreshments from local suppliers at the two gigs.

Support for Mallacoota and Buchan

It was the support of others that helped the Mallacoota and Buchan communities get through ongoing heartbreak in their towns. The towns spent time helping clear debris away following the 2019-2020 bushfires and came together bundling up food to share with those that had lost their homes.

“That’s the positive to come out of traumatic events – everyone is there for each other, and we have that sense of community to get through it.

“Being together during that time was super important and when we couldn’t do that, it was tough,” Carol said.

“The restrictions due to the pandemic were felt and we missed being together.”

The Victorian Government’s Rechargeprogram is designed to allow locals to connect with their neighbours and surrounding community members in a supportive environment.

“I find it difficult to get my head around that time, it was like Armageddon with helicopters flying around unloading supplies,” Carol said.

“When I look at my town, I’m so proud of our community and how we can just pick ourselves up and dust ourselves off.

“I know for some people after two years, it’s only just the beginning to rebuild what they lost.”

For Buchan locals, Cathy and Darren Williams, two years ago marked a start of a new chapter. They moved from Bairnsdale to run a caravan park for locals in Buchan.

“It was a complete lifestyle change for us and 10 days later, the bushfires came through,” Cathy said.

“We were blocked up here with nobody and no power for four weeks – it was so isolating to be in a new town when this happened which was made worse with the pandemic.”

Cathy explains that the community haven’t had a chance to properly talk about the last few years and share their experience.

When they could, the Buchan community had small gatherings to support each other and provided Cathy and Darren a chance to meet new people and cement strong friendships.

“When we first moved up here, the community were very welcoming and I think the sadness from the bushfires really strengthened that,” Cathy said.

Cathy and Darren operate their caravan park seven days a week and the night of the Recharge concert will be the first time in a while when they won’t be working.

“I’ve been listening to Paul Kelly while mowing the lawns and I’m really excited,” Cathy said.

Brodie Gaudion returned to her childhood home in Mallacoota days before the devastating scenes unfolded at the end of 2019.

“Mallacoota has always been a place of music and in a crisis and trauma, it really helps bring people together and support solidarity,” Brodie said.

“Once the bushfires happened, we tried to make ourselves useful.”

Brodie’s plans to continue travelling around the world with her partner were replaced with wanting to give back to the Mallacoota community. She spent time as a volunteer with the State Emergency Services and then helped build a youth centre to raise funds for youth workers including creating after school programs for students.

“With everything going on, we feel incredibly lucky to be here and can appreciate how beautiful the lifestyle is.

“And after all this time and its challenges, the town is still able to hold on to a strong sense of community,” Brodie said.

View a short video of the Rural Recharge Community Concert on Youtube.

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