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Marysville community focus on rebuilding -

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Marysville community focus on rebuilding

Broadcast: 18/08/2009

Reporter: Heather Ewart

In the aftermath of the damning interim report by the Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, many of
the survivors in areas hit by fire are more concerned with rebuilding their fractured communities
than perusing the report's recommendations.


KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: Welcome to the program.

Although yesterday's Royal Commission interim report into Victoria's Black Saturday bushfires
identified serious flaws in the way authorities responded, many of the survivors are more concerned
with rebuilding their fractured communities than perusing the report's findings.

The resort town of Marysville on the road to the Victorian snow fields has to be rebuilt almost
from scratch, but the process is fraught, with local frustration and division over the slow rate of

Just six months after Black Saturday the town is bogged down by bureaucracy and power struggles.
There are bitter criticisms of Christine Nixon, the chief of the Bushfires Reconstruction and
Recovery Authority, and calls for the local shire council to stand down to make way for an outside

Heather Ewart reports from Marysville.

HEATHER EWART, REPORTER: The blocks have been cleared, a temporary village has sprung up. The
tourists are very slowly starting to trickle back, and Marysville is tearing itself apart over how
to rebuild the once picturesque historic resort town that was all but wiped out on Black Saturday.

DOUG WALTER, MARYSVILLE AND TRIANGLE DEVELOPMENT GROUP: The fires were bad enough, but to have this
sort of division and fracturing in our community is a terrible thing.

Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Rebuilding Authority are trying to seek to impose their will
on the community. I guess that goes to the heart of our frustration.

LYN GUNTER, MURRINDINDI MAYOR: How can we sort this out? Because quite honestly we have been
through enough destruction. We don't need any more.

understand how communities operate and in some cases also how catastrophes cause those communities
to split.

HEATHER EWART: Has the process in rebuilding Marysville been too slow and cumbersome?

KEVIN BELLINGHAM, MURRINDINDI DEPUTY MAYOR: From a lot of people's point of view, yes, it has. But
what people have to understand - process - anything to do with Government, whether it be State,
Federal, is a process.

HEATHER EWART: The people of Marysville and surrounding communities are learning the hard way -
this is all about process - and it's not working for them. A maze of committees and layers of
bureaucracy has so far failed to produce even a start to reconstruction.

JIM ROENNFELDT: They are confused, and angry. They do not know what is really happening. And the
frustration is actually driving some people away or threatening to leave.

DOUG WALTER: We had a clear direction as to what needed to be done, and it's unravelling.

CHRISTINE NIXON: Some of the things that have been done haven't been at the pace some people
wanted. Alternatively there's a group of people that said, "Let's take our time and think about
what could be better about Marysville".

HEATHER EWART: Six months on there's still no supermarket here, there's no school or basic
amenities, just a bakery and a few ski hire business in makeshift accommodation, trying to eke out
a living. For those who survived Black Saturday, the path to rebuilding their community feels
almost as arduous.

This ski hire operator finds himself dealing almost as much with council inspectors these days as
the occasional passing tourist. He's desperate to rebuild his business and to keep locals employed.
But must meet rigid guidelines and conform to a plan for the main street that still hasn't been

GREG MCEWEN, SKI HIRE OPERATOR: There certainly seems to be unnecessary delays from what I
experience, whether that is due to rivalry behind the scenes, I can't answer that. There certainly
seems to be too many committees now involved in decision making.

HEATHER EWART: There are committees galore focussed on rebuilding Marysville and the rivalries are
intense. They are vying for the attention of this woman, Christine Nixon, the former State Police
Commissioner who heads the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Rebuilding Authority. Otherwise
known as VBRRA.

DOUG WALTER: I think the creature of the Federal and State Governments, that's Victorian Bushfire
Reconstruction and Rebuilding Authority has, unfortunately, proven to be bureaucratic, safe but
unresponsive. I think that it's now trying to paint our community representative organisation as a
villain in all this, that's a, that's just unbelievable too.

JIM ROENNFELDT: Unless she's prepared to listen to the community and work with the community, which
she so far hasn't shown a tendency to do, she should be replaced.

CHRISTINE NIXON: Look, I don't think there are villains, there are not any heroes either. People
have worked together. I think the group worked well in the early days.

HEATHER EWART: The Marysville and Triangle Development Group was set up by locals soon after the
fire swept through and sees itself as the chief representative of what Marysville residents want.
Members are affectionately known around town as the "Mad Dogs".

JIM ROENNFELDT: We basically had an official piece of paper saying we were the community
consultative committee for VBRRA.

HEATHER EWART: What's upset the apple cart big time, is the recent formation of another committee
by Murrindindi Shire council which the Mad Dogs believe has sidelined them.

KEVIN BELLINGHAM: We need one point of a committee that was sanctioned by the council, that had
that local Government authority.

HEATHER EWART: Do you need so many committees for the rebuilding and recovery process?

LYN GUNTER: Well, we have what we have. It's whether we need them...

HEATHER EWART: What do you think?

LYN GUNTER: You know, this is what's been put in by council. If you are asking me as a resident, I
think it could be a lot simpler.

HEATHER EWART: There wasn't total agreement in council about this, was there? About setting up the
committee. The Mayor didn't agree.

KEVIN BELLINGHAM: In regard to...I think the issue there went right out of, what would you
say, perspective.

LYN GUNTER: There was a motion put at council about having our own individual committees and there
was a vote that was taken. I was the one that said I disagreed with the way it was going.

JIM ROENNFELDT: So the council has had a rift in it and unfortunately, that rift is now showing
itself up in our community in Marysville.

HEATHER EWART: To make matters even more confusing, the newly formed council committee known as the
CRC, sits under another committee known as the Section 86, set up under the Local Government Act,
to advise Christine Nixon's authority on rebuilding projects.

KEVIN BELLINGHAM: All these projects, templates as we call them, will come through the CRC, and
they will then be put forward to the Section 86, and from section 86 it goes to Christine Nixon.

HEATHER EWART: All pretty straight forward.

KEVIN BELLINGHAM: Yes, isn't it?

HEATHER EWART: So she listens to which one?

KEVIN BELLINGHAM: When you say, "Which one?"...

HEATHER EWART: Who takes precedence?

KEVIN BELLINGHAM: She would be advised from the Section 86 Committee.

HEATHER EWART: If that's as clear as mud, Christine Nixon at least seems to have a grip on the
titles and the hierarchy, and says she's confident of uniting the warring factions.

CHRISTINE NIXON: We are trying to bring them together, next week really, along with the Community
Recovery Committee to make sure we are all on the same thing. What we want out of this is a plan
for Marysville for the future. It isn't about whose plan it is, but the fact it reflects the whole
of the community's wants and needs. Then we'll have something we'll pull in behind and put into

HEATHER EWART: She has her work out out, amid calls not just for her to step aside, but for the
local council to call it quits as well.

JIM ROENNFELDT: We have an ineffective council and we have a VBRRA that is not working with the

HEATHER EWART: Even the Mayor is now starting to wonder whether it would have been better for the
council to stand itself down from the outset, to be replaced by an administrator. 40 per cent of
the shire was destroyed by fire and many councillors are directly affected.

LYN GUNTER: My personal view is, I really see that it is is something that could have been done
here, as a resident.

CHRISTINE NIXON: But they didn't choose to do that, and the State Government didn't choose to do
that either. We learnt a lot of lessons out of this disaster and those lessons will come together.
What we've got is what we've got, that's what we are working with.

HEATHER EWART: That leaves bewildered Marysville residents and business people wondering when
they'll ever get a main street back. Christine Nixon expects to produce draft plans in the next few

In the meantime locals see a huge car museum that survived the fires lying empty across the road.
Under mounting community pressure, the State Government bought the building from a private owner
earlier this month to house shops and services.

GREG MCEWEN: I think just starting it small, starting with the basics. Give them somewhere to buy
bread and milk, a newspaper, a beer, if you like. Then from that you'll have a flow on.

CHRISTINE NIXON: We'll be puyting out tenders for people who want to operate businesses out of
that. We'll get that into shape as fast as we possibly can.

HEATHER EWART: So far nothing has happened. Given the slow pace of progress, some in the
Marysvillehdistrict are no longer sure if it's worth the wait.

JIM ROENNFELDT: It is very hard to take. It's at such a stage now that unless it can be resolved,
we too are seriously thinking of leaving the district. There's no point living in this mess when
you can go somewhere else.