Evacuated twice from their homes due to bushfires in East Gippsland, Mick Britton and Zac Horvat, like many other East Gippslanders, were dealt a double blow when their respective construction jobs wound up due to COVID-19 in early 2020.
A new opportunity was soon presented thanks to the Working for Victoria program rolled out by the Victorian Government, when they, along with 10 others across the Snowy and Tambo districts, were able to secure employment at the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP).
While both men had been forced to travel out of their communities to pursue construction work, the program bought them back home to assist in DELWP’s bushfire recovery works, repairing fences, clearing tracks, removing hazardous trees and building local recreation sites back bigger and better.
“Working out in bushfire affected areas, you try to imagine what it would’ve been like on that day when the fires came through. Some of the devastation is just so traumatic – it still pulls a string at my heart to see the damage that it has caused,” said Zac Horvat.
“To see the looks on people’s faces when we arrive to help out on a fence or other work, is what makes it all worth it. It helps me recover being able to help someone else who has been bushfire affected,” said Zac Horvat.
Both men label their experiences at the time of the fires as ‘scary’ ‘daunting’ and ‘traumatic’.
The opportunity offered by the Working for Victoria program has given them a new career, new hope and a new direction. Amongst the cohort of six within the Snowy district, four have already successfully secured ongoing employment.
Chris Donchi, Bushfire Recovery Team Leader at DELWP says the crew has exceeded his expectations, putting to use valuable life experience in a mutual exchange of skills and knowledge.
“They couldn’t be more grateful and I couldn’t be happier. They are all worthy and amazing people, we love having them here,” he said.
“It’s been a huge help for the community too. There are a lot of tasks they’ve completed that we wouldn’t have been able to do without these extra hands. The help they’ve given to landholders in particular, who have had their livelihoods destroyed, makes a world of difference to the landholder, to the crew, to the community.
They promised they wouldn’t let me down and they haven’t.”