Job done and dusted

COGA founders Matt Falla, Mike Baimbridge and Janeden River, with the group's log spliting machines that is being re-homed. 140012 Picture: ROB CAREW


A BLACK Saturday recovery group has hung up their tool belts, finishing up with over 65,000 hours of community work clocked in.
The Community on Ground Assistance (COGA) group was established after the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires with a simple aim – to support survivors and those affected on the ground, however that may be.
COGA founding member Mike Baimbridge said the group started up with Baptist Churches of Australia, raising money for bushfire recovery, with the assistance of founding members Janeden River and Matt Falla.
“I was able to get a substantial amount of that to employ two guys, buy a heap of gear and give those guys away to people (for recovery work),” he said.
“After 12 months, we formalised our relationship with another guy working under the BAPTCARE banner in Kinglake, as well as other groups working in that space.
“We were encouraged by Christine Nixon (former Victoria Police Chief Commissioner) to form an alliance and put in a proposal for ongoing funding.”
Since then, COGA has run over 500 projects in fire-affected regions, from Yarra Glen, Steels Creek and Kinglake, through to Marysville and state-wide.
Mr Baimbridge estimates that 65,000 hours of work have been completed through COGA in the last six years, with projects such as improving temporary living spaces, as well as providing pastoral support.
An example of this was COGA’s work with a landowner who had dangerous trees cut down, but worked long hours and was not able to move the felled trees from his land to build – COGA workers went in with wood splitters and chainsaws to clear the wood.
“We’ve had people come out of the woodwork who are still living on properties that have not had any work done, and look like – apart from the fact the grass is green – the fires happened yesterday,” he said.
“What we set out to do in the first place was a practical and pastoral response – if you have a four-hour chat and a four-hour job, it’s an eight-hour job.
“Sitting down with people in the midst of their trauma and grief was just as important as fixing their things.”
Numerous agencies assisted with COGA’s work, including many corporate groups, which supplied workers to assist as part of team-building projects.
Eastern Access Community Health (EACH), the Salvation Army, Rotary, Lions, Victoria’s Fire Recovery Unit, Uniting Care and many others were on board with COGA’s efforts.
The group received glowing testimonies from recipients of their work, which were compiled with photos before and after recovery works to make a book.
But COGA’s final funding allocation ran out at the end of May, and the group has since laid down its tools and disbanded, following a farewell event in Kinglake.
The group’s tools, under the Victorian Bushfires Appeal Fund directions, have been donated to the Toolangi Men’s Shed, Toolangi Community House and Garden, Yarra Valley Men’s Shed, Heartland Church and numerous organisations in Kinglake and its surrounds, such as Kinglake SES.