Pictured: Ros Wade, Anne Graham (Family Support Worker), Sgt Matt Minz and Kimberlee Wade (artist and former Family Support Worker).

In times of crisis, communities often look towards familiar faces for support, seeking solace and guidance amidst adversity. In Tara, one such beacon of hope shines brightly – the Tara Neighbourhood Centre. 

For decades, the Centre has been an unwavering support system for community members, particularly during times of disaster. In an interview with Ros Wade, the Coordinator of the Tara Neighbourhood Centre, we gained insights into the Centre’s invaluable role in the recent bushfire recovery efforts and its longstanding commitment to supporting the community through disasters. 

When bushfires ravaged through the region in October last year, Tara Neighbourhood Centre stood at the forefront of relief efforts. Serving as a central point of support, the Centre’s front reception became a hub for intake, assistance, and connection. 

Ros and her team worked tirelessly, helping affected individuals navigate paperwork, connect with essential support services, and troubleshoot challenges. Their knowledge of the local community proved invaluable, guiding families to resources and aiding in identity verification for those displaced by the fires. 

One moment that Ros recalled was when a man, covered in ash from the fires, sought help at the Centre. Despite being almost unrecognisable, the staff’s strong familiarity with the community allowed them to confirm the man’s identity. 

The Centre also took steps to provide emergency relief, including distributing gift cards aimed at assisting affected residents with meeting some of their immediate needs. 

Ros explained that the lessons learned from previous disasters provided valuable insights and strengthened the Centre’s preparedness for future disasters, “the [2023] February fires gave us so many learning and management ideas for when something bigger happened.” 

The Tara Neighbourhood Centre’s commitment to community support extends far beyond the recent bushfires. Over the years, the Centre has been an ally during various disasters, including bushfires, floods and prolonged periods of drought. 

During the 2011 floods, Ros recalled that there was a line outside the Centre stretching approximately 500 metres long, as people queued up for Centrelink disaster relief. 

Ros emphasised the Centre’s role as a lifeline during times of crisis, recalling its support in the aftermath of tragic events such as the Wieambilla shootings. Despite the challenges, the Centre persevered, providing essential support and fostering connections within the community. One heartfelt gesture was when the Centre presented an Indigenous artwork by Kimberlee Wade (Mummamini) to the police station. Kimberlee has connections to the community and worked at the Centre for a number of years as a Family Support worker. The gesture represented a message of unity, compassion and healing in the wake of tragedy.   

Centres like Tara highlight the importance of local community based organisations in rural communities during disasters, and the place-based community-led nature of Neighbourhood Centres across the state. 

“We’ve always been there,” Ros affirmed, recalling the Centre’s response to past disasters. “Whether it’s a personal disaster or a big scale one. The first thing you do is try to help [people] as much as you can.” 

At the heart of Neighbourhood Centres across Queensland are their workers, who serve as pillars of support for their communities. Dedicated individuals like Ros, who has spent 24 years as the Coordinator at Tara Neighbourhood Centre, bring a wealth of experience. 

“As Centres, we have that capacity to understand our community. Whether its [people working at] reception, family support workers or coordinators, they all have the knowledge bank and the contacts.” 

“We deal with the customers we see every day. We’re the link.” 

Ros emphasised the importance of long-term workers in understanding the community’s needs and delivering tailored support, stating, “It really is an advantage to have long term workers as they have the community connections and the knowledge… They have a vested interest in getting the best for their community.” 

The Tara Neighbourhood Centre’s outstanding efforts have not gone unnoticed. Organisations have praised it as a model of efficient management, highlighting its effective system for working with community recovery hubs. 

As the Centre looks towards the future, Ros and her team remain committed to serving the community. Despite the challenges, their dedication embodies the spirit of solidarity and hope that defines the community of Tara. Through their resilience, the Centre remains a pillar of support for all who call Tara and its surrounding areas home. 

Written By: Ally Kodet-Moran
Published: April 2024