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Rising from the ashes


Karin von Behrens
18 February 2020
Ellie Tree

Southern Cross University student Ellie Tree is aiming to help rebuild the bushfire-ravaged communities of Australia – literally.

The 26-year-old Bachelor of Psychological Science student has founded a charity, Phoenix Foundations Housing Relief Limited, to help provide accommodation, emotional support and resources to those who have been affected.

The planned housing relief will come in the form of supporting trauma impacted individuals and families through the rebuild planning process and the spectrum of options, from temporary, transient structures to longer lasting, fire resilient designs. Builder Sean McGilvray has been heavily involved in designing these structures.

“The greater majority of those who lost their homes won’t be able to rebuild what they once had. Not only due to financial strain, but changes in legislation,” said Ms Tree.

“For some people their land will now be considered uninhabitable, and rebuilding won’t be an option at all. So, a lot of the work we are doing in the community is education-focused, discussing the process of rebuilding, which is dependent on each individual circumstance.”

“We will also utilise a volunteer database of tradies who are registered with Tradies for Fire Affected Communities; a Facebook group started by Piers Smart. This will allow us to keep costs low and turnover high in terms of the support we are able to provide.” 

In addition to housing, Phoenix Foundations Housing Relief Limited will be providing a website, which will assist people willing to help fundraise; and emotional support, possibly in the form of a buddy system. 

The buddy system will be a database of volunteers who will advocate on behalf of each individual who needs help. This means those requiring assistance do not need to repeatedly tell their stories to service providers, ultimately causing them to revisit the trauma on a daily basis. Their buddy can instead take on this task and advocate on their behalf.

Ms Tree is currently working with the Australian Tax Office to try and have Phoenix Foundations Housing Relief Limited listed for Deductible Gift Recipient (DGR) status. She is also working with local councils to ensure the dwellings provided will meet national building codes and comply with local council regulations. In addition to this, she is about to embark on a trip of fire-affected towns along the east coast to find out exactly what they need.

“Nobody knows what a community needs more than the people who live within it and are experiencing the devastation first hand - we’re in active listening mode and setting up our operation to be responsive to local volunteer leaders' needs as they help their communities recover,” she said. 

Ms Tree credits some of her university subjects such as Australian Politics and the Australian Health Care System for giving her a big picture perspective on these issues.

Course Coordinator for Southern Cross University's Bachelor of Psychological Science, Dr Christian Swann, describes Ellies work as inspirational.

“She is doing fantastic work for the community and is an exemplar of the students that Southern Cross produces in psychology,” said Dr Swann.

In the 2020 Good Universities Guide, the Psychology program at Southern Cross University received five-stars across the educational experience criteria. Overall Quality of Educational Experience, Student Support and Teaching Quality all achieved the number one result in Australia, while the five-stars for Learner Engagement, Learning Resources and Skills Development were the highest result for a NSW university.