Being a part of a community can make us feel as though we are a part of something greater than ourselves. Our communities connect us, supports us and makes us feel safe and secure – it unites us. After all, you can’t spell community without unity. But most importantly, being a part of a community gives us a sense of belonging.
Eungella resident Jolene Robinson understands the importance of belonging and takes enormous pride in contributing to and supporting her community.
“Nothing is more important to me than being a part of, and contributing to, my community,” Jolene said.
“Eungella is a small rural town an hour west of Mackay with a population of just over 200 people.
“We have such a unique and special part of the world up here and I just want to showcase it to everyone,” she said.
But after only just recovering from Tropical Cyclone Debbie which brought devastating floods to the Pioneer Valley in March 2017, the Eungella community had to also cope with the worst bushfires on record in November 2018.
"We lost over 120,000 hectares of world heritage rainforest; the rainforest isn’t supposed to burn,” Jolene said.
"During the fires I was one of the few volunteers that were lucky enough to stay together. We coordinated and cooked the meals for the 80 fire units – that’s three meals a day each, at any given time of the day or night, for eight days straight.
“We were completely cut off during the first few days of the fire, so supplies were limited. You really had to work well together to nut out how we could provide “lunch packs” or something quick to grab and go, with limited supplies available.
“It was manic. I didn’t sleep, none of us did. I only went home to have a shower and change my clothes. We [the volunteers] were running on nothing but adrenaline the entire time.
"The bushfires took us by complete surprise. No town is prepared for this scale of natural disaster. Small business and tourism is huge for our region and the town came to a complete stand still which impacted our tourism, trade and retail business.
“Two years on and it’s still all too raw. I struggle talking about it. The stories I listened to would both make you laugh and make you cry. We all did what was needed to be done and helped where we could at the time. I’m proud to have helped in some small way,” she said.
Watching the community struggle to recover was difficult for the mum-of-two and teacher aid at Eungella State School.
Jolene previously operated her own rustic rural retreat - Robinson's Family Farmstay and for many years has volunteered to help coordinate large-scale tourism events for the region, including the iconic Motorcycle Beach Races at Grasstree Beach.
"Motorcycling is in my blood. My dad was passionate about motorcycles and bought me my first motorcycle, a QR 50, when I was just three-years-old. That’s where the passion started,” Jolene said.
“Motorcycling has changed my life. I love it so much that I’ve travelled around the world to watch motorcycle events like Isle of Mann TT in the event’s 100th year. I even did a solo riding tour around New Zealand for two weeks, from Christchurch to Invercargill - the home of legendary World’s fastest Indian, Burt Munrow,” she said.
As an avid motorcyclist and an active member of the Gum Valley Veterans and Natural Terrain Motorcycle Club, Jolene volunteers her time to help both the motorcycling industry and her community thrive.
“Most motorcycle clubs are all volunteer based so if you believe in an event, like the beach races, like I do, then you have to volunteer or it simply won’t happen and everyone misses out,” Jolene said.
“Like many of us at the club, I assist in pretty much every aspect of the event. From grunt work like scrubbing floors, moving tables and emptying the bins to overseeing planning and logistics like coordinating and briefing all event volunteers, grant writing and risk management and licensing.
“The Beach Races are Australia's only competitive beach motorcycle race and one of only several in the world. Each year we attract around 5,000 spectators to watch about 350 riders from across Australia and overseas race, each vying to be crowned King of the Beach.
“I do what I do to benefit the community. The way I see it, the work we do provides experiences for everyone in our community. These events get people off the couch, out of the house and brings them all together which is such a positive for our mental health,” she said.
Jolene was also instrumental in the creation of Our Resilient Community, a Regional Arts Development Funded book and short film commemorating the strength and spirit of the Eungella community during the 2018 bushfires.
“The project aimed to not only raise public awareness of the fires that took place in our region and the effect they had on the local environment, but also to help everyone recover and get over it all,” Jolene said.
“The project went a long way to helping us all heal and move on, I’m proud to have been a part of it,” she said.
But still, Jolene was keen to do more to support her beloved community.
"The events that I coordinate helps generate tourism which in turn feeds into small business economy," she said.
It was at this time, that Jolene learned about the Volunteers and Events Training Program (VETP) offered through TAFE Queensland to provide free training for volunteers and paid event organisers in disaster-affected communities.
The program is funded by the Commonwealth and Queensland Governments under the Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements, aiming to provide skills and build resilience, with a focus on helping the tourism industry to recover and prepare for the future.
Jolene is studying a Diploma of Events Management online, with the course covering topics including orientation, resilience and leadership.
"The skills I’ve learned at TAFE include budgeting, timelines, risk assessments, COVID safe planning, licensing and environmental management practices," Jolene said.
"These are the skills that quite often get overlooked in community planning. People are generally more focused on the idea rather than the logistics of ‘how’. It takes a lot to bring an idea to life.
"It was an opportunity to formalise the skills and experience I’ve gained in my current roles and also learn new skills to better support my community. My TAFE skills have given me the confidence to throw myself into coordinating events for the community, often at short notice, and taking on things many people think are too hard or impossible to manage,” she said.
TAFE Queensland is proud to be working side-by-side with the local community to help boost the skills and confidence of volunteers working in the tourism and events industry.
For more information about the Volunteers and Events Training Program, click on the link below.