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Celebrating 100 years: Beth's Story

In 2009 during the Black Saturday bushfires, Beth along with four Canberra-based team members travelled to Melbourne to assist Centrelink staff in coordinating Disaster Relief Payments.

12 May 2022

In 2009 the Black Saturday bushfires burned across Victoria ambushing escape routes, overwhelming authorities and destroying communities. The horror of the widespread devastation placed Australia well and truly on the international stage of catastrophic disasters.
But in the spirit of inter-agency collaboration, five Canberra-based team members travelled to Melbourne to assist Centrelink staff in coordinating Disaster Relief Payments.

‘Some Managers and Executives had contacts at Centrelink, so it was all due to their connections. An All Staff meeting was quickly organised and Management asked for volunteers to travel to Melbourne to help Centrelink staff. But there was a catch. We had to get on a plane that night!’

The team of five — Beth Dillon, Annette O’Sullivan, Andrew Hambridge, Jon Head and Natalie Calvani —departed for Melbourne later that evening.

‘My Manager said that I would be really good for it and encouraged me to go. So I went home and grabbed some things. I didn’t have children back then! Our flight was supposed to leave around 8 pm, but there were problems with the plane and we didn’t end up departing until close to midnight. I think the last plane to depart from Canberra Airport has to be before midnight! So we were lucky to even get out that night. Anyway, we thought we might be away for a week, but one week turned into three.’

Beth and her ComSuper colleagues worked up to 15-hour days in makeshift offices spread around Melbourne’s hotel conference rooms. They weren’t even working in the same location as each other.

They prepared information packs for Centrelink staff to take out to the affected communities, and then processed this paperwork when it came back. It was a way to help reduce a sense of feeling overwhelmed, and remind people caught in the disaster that they were not alone in the midst of their distress.

The Canberra group was simply happy to help out anywhere they were needed.

‘I didn’t feel affected by the trauma of what was happening as I was mostly away from it all. We all just wanted to help in any way that we could. We rolled up our sleeves and got on with the job. I even got to drive a van around. That is until one day they realised that Centrelink’s policy was that I needed to have completed a heavy vehicle driving course to drive a vehicle of that size, so they swapped the van for a Toyota Prado!’

Before the end of her mission, Beth accepted the offer to get out of the office for the day and accompany Centrelink to one of the worst affected areas, Kinglake.

‘Going out to the Kinglake and being onsite was eye opening. Now that I have kids, I’m not so sure I would be as quick to agree to go.’

Beth credits her Manager and her team mates for taking the opportunity to experience such collaborative preparedness during the bushfire disaster.

‘We had Senior Managers who had previously worked for Centrelink and had connections with Senior Management there. The opportunity was an example of one government agency helping out another; it highlights a sense of human connection.’

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