A new program has begun in north-east Victoria in a bid to create more local leaders in times of disaster.

When the smoke cleared from bushfires that devastated the region in 2019-2020 communities were then faced immediately with a pandemic, and with it a leadership gap emerged.

Alpine Valleys Community Leadership (AVCL) launched an expression of interest for its Disaster Recovery and Climate Change Program to train leaders for times of need.

Men and women stand around a large sign advertising the leadership program
Community members eagerly put their hand up to join a program that will develop local leaders in times of need.(Supplied: AVCL)

The course navigates building regional relationships, understanding climate change, learning from other communities, and building resilience and wellbeing.

An overwhelming number of residents came forward and a diverse cross-section of gender, communities, and industry now make up the 22 students that have been selected to start the course.

It fittingly kicked off with a two day retreat at Walwa, which was threatened by the bushfires.

“Even though we’re 18 months on from the fires, being up in that community and also hearing stories first hand of the effects and the ongoing effects, it was really important to have that place-based,” program manager Karlie Langdon said.

Having the tough conversations

Climate change education will play a major role in the course, and local leaders will learn to respectfully steer conversation — both publicly and privately — around the topic which can often divide tight-knit, rural communities.

“We believe that you don’t need to be the expert, but you need to have the context and confidence to have those conversations,” Ms Langdon said.

“It’s a hot topic and it’s a topic that’s not going away, so therefore it does start with effective leadership and it does start in a place-based environment.

She said to do that, diversity within the program was essential.

“It’s also about being really respectful in conversations, respectful in communications, and understanding that people do come from different angles,” Ms Langdon said.

“That’s why it’s important to profile a variety of different industries and a variety of different livelihoods, and gain perspectives from all our communities.”

Knowledge to help drive change

Regional agricultural Landcare facilitator with North East CMA, Lachlan Campbell, said the course was ideal for those prepared to stand with their communities when disaster strikes and be better educated on how their communities are impacted.

“They will have the opportunity to learn from some of the best climate modellers to understand the changes expected in the weather patterns in north-east Victoria, as well as what these changes might mean for their community, agricultural business, and environment,” Mr Campbell said.

Orange flames can be seen rising over a mountain, from the main street in Walwa.
A bushfire threatened the township of Walwa in December 2019.(Supplied: Stephenie Beaumont)

The leaders will also learn how to develop networks and advocate for support and change at all three tiers of government.

The course has been praised by former Indi MP Cathy McGowan.

“These networks can be the foundation for renewal,” Ms McGowan said.

“In these times it is vital that all of us turn up, speak up and step into leadership roles.”

The program is supported by North East Catchment Management Authority (CMA), through funding from the Australian Government’s National Landcare Program and the Victorian Government, in partnership with Central Hume Primary Care Partnership and the Gardiner Foundation.