In hindsight, February was a month of transition. Before we had a clear idea of what COVID-19 was, the ACT emerged from the bushfires and looked to support our neighbours in need and those closer to home affected by the smoke haze; while also celebrating those who stood up and embodied community spirit in the thick of the summer crises.
‘Disaster tourism’ flames fury and frustration
In the last week of January as the Orroral Valley Fire burned out of control, posing a direct threat to residents of far south ACT, many instances of ‘disaster tourism’ were reported from the suburban fringes of Tuggeranong.
There were reports of disaster tourists blocking roads and driveways, speeding, and even climbing onto the roofs of local residents’ houses to get photos.
Gordon resident Morgan Murray told Canberra Weekly that as the Orroral Valley Fire burned out of control, the main road into Gordon was overtaken as ‘disaster tourism’ ran rife.
“People were being quite dangerous, too, either flying down the street or stopping in the middle of the road to take photos.”
Smoke taint spoils 2020 vintage
A number of Canberra region winemakers are opting not to harvest fruit for vintage 2020 due to smoke taint from the recent bushfires.
It has been a challenging season for winemakers with drought, fires, smoke and hail. While the decision not to harvest in 2020 has already been made by a number of individual wineries, the Canberra District Wine Industry Association (CDWIA) said the full impact is yet to be known.
While the prospective lack of vintage 2020 is disappointing for the industry, Lake George Winery co-owner Sarah McDougall said local wines will still be available.
“Coming into winter, a lot of the wineries in the district will release their 2018 reds and some 2019 wines. We all still have a lot of wine to release so that should get us through to 2021.”
Skilled Capital funding cuts create uncertainty
A local business has had to cancel a Certificate II in Construction course for 25 refugees and asylum seekers on the back of their government subsidies being cut.
In January, the ACT Government cut subsidies they provide via Skilled Capital, a funding program that helps students undertake Vocational Education and Training (VET).
According to Master Builders ACT, in some cases the Government has cut 100% of the subsidy, while for the majority the subsidy has been cut by at least 50%.
An ACT Government spokesperson said they are “not in a position to comment on decisions of individual businesses”, but that training subsidies remain available to the ACT building and construction industry through multiple government funding sources.
These include the Australian Apprenticeships (User Choice) program, CIT, and the ACT Building and Construction Industry Training Fund Authority (TFA).
“More than $90 million of VET funding will be invested in the ACT in 2019-20 to address areas of skills need and encourage employers to take on new workers,” they said.
Icon Water monitoring water quality
Heavy rainfall prompted concern about the potential impact on water quality for the ACT following recent bushfires in the region.
Icon Water implemented measures to reduce the runoff of ash and sediment into the Corin Dam ahead of the rain and acknowledged that “depending on the damage to vegetation caused by the fire as well as the amount of rainfall, there can be varying impacts to water quality”.
Good news – Famous firies’ fridge on display
A heat-warming symbol of humanity and community spirit in the thick of the summer’s bushfire crisis went on display at the National Museum of Australia (NMA) in February.
Many Canberrans heard of the Hooper family’s iconic firies’ fridge that was stocked with cold drinks beside the road in Bungendore for thirsty firefighters battling blazes in the region.
It culminated in a convoy of around 33 RFS trucks driving from Bungendore to the Museum to deliver the fridge on Friday 21 February.
There were hundreds of emergency service workers and volunteers in attendance, with the powerful gathering acting as an opportunity for the community to touch base and support one another.