Strathewen: The community


The Black Saturday fires in 2009 stole a lot of things. Homes. Possessions. Parents and children. It took most of the things that make up what we call a ‘community’; one of the things that the fires didn’t destroy however, was the sense of community.

One of Strathewen’s 140 or so properties is home to the Stecher family.

Wes and Georgina Stecher have a close relationship with Strathewen. Georgina’s family has been in the district for six generations, and most of her relatives and friends live ‘down the road’. Like a lot of small regional towns, the sense of community is noticeable as you drive the streets of Strathewen.

Wes moved to the area five years ago after meeting Georgina and quickly fell in love with his new neighbourhood. He is a volunteer fire fighter for the Arthurs Creek and Strathewen Rural Fire Brigade and was on the front line when the fires hit. He shared his story in the following months and can be seen on the ABC’s Black Saturday website.

After the last of the embers were extinguished and the smoke lifted to reveal a stark charred landscape, Wes and Georgina discovered that they had lost their home and friends. Like a lot of the locals, they had to move away from the area to find a new home. Like a lot of locals, they decided to come back to Strathewen. And like a lot of locals, it was the community that provided them with support as they started to rebuild their lives.

Different communities bonded in different ways. Up the hill in Kinglake, a strong arts alliance emerged, and half an hour away in Flowerdale, more than 120 residents got the same tattoo. In Strathewen, the community bonded over something else. Food.

In the weeks after the fires, Strathewen resident Kate Hamment started a soup night. The event quickly grew in popularity and many locals, including the Stechers, started to attend the weekly dinners. Over the years, it’s become an integral part of the community and provides a comforting routine in what has been a tumultuous period.

The night has helped rebuild the community and provided residents with some time out from their hectic schedules. It’s been a place where they can talk about the progress they’re making, and help each other with advice and tips. They’ve also cooked a hell of a lot of soup.

At the Stecher’s new block, things are starting to take shape. The house and shed plans have been approved and Wes and Georgina hope to start construction in the coming weeks.

Despite everything they’ve been through, Wes and Georgina are positive about the future and excited at the progress happening on their land. They’re just one of the many homes in Strathewen that are on the journey of recovery.

With warmer days being more common, the sound of ladles serving up soup is fading and the sound of tongs on the barbeque is now in their place. It’s just one of the sounds that defines this optimistic, well fed community.

Project: Aftermath Client: ABC Open Location: Strathewen, Victoria, Australia Date: October 2011 Producer: Benj Binks Writer: Benj Binks Director: Benj Binks Cinematographer: Benj Binks Sound Recorder: Ned Beckley