Going the extra mile after Gidgegannup’s bushfires

Gidgegannup was caught off-guard by the February 2021 bushfires. As the stricken community pulled through the worst of it, Australia Post’s James Roberts and Red Cross were there to help them get back on their feet.

The winds were howling when James Roberts began his postal run the morning of February 2021 in Gidgegannup, a township located 40km northeast of Perth. News of the Wooroloo fires was on the radio but James wasn’t too concerned. He couldn’t smell or see any smoke - and besides, he had a job to do.

In the three years that James has been a postie for the Gidgenannup community, his role has steadily evolved from a familiar face who drops off the mail to a community staple who goes that extra mile for his customers.

“The local postie is seen as a vital member of the community,” James says. “This is my philosophy and motivation in doing the work I love.” That philosophy kept him on the road despite news updates that the fires were spreading beyond Wooroloo.

Whenever disaster strikes, Australia Post and Red Cross are there to support and help communities get back on their feet.

At one of James’ delivery stops, the house owner stepped out to ask why he was still delivering mail – hadn’t he heard about the fires? Within 24 hours of that conversation, the winds had carried the fire to the hilly bushland of Gidgegannup. And as James ruefully says, no one was prepared for it.

The next morning, James showed up at the Post Office to find that the fire had bypassed the town centre. Unsure of what lay ahead, he picked up the mail as usual and completed part of his delivery run before entering an area that the locals would later describe as a “war zone.”

“I reached a roadblock and the police stopped me from passing through. I told them I’m a postie, the mail gets delivered whether it’s rain, hail or shine. But they weren’t having any of it. So I thought if I can’t get to people’s homes then I had to find another way to deliver their mail.”

Stepping up in the aftermath of a natural disaster

James quickly realised he could play a small but significant part in the recovery process for those hardest hit by the fires. He knew that something as simple as delivering the mail and being a friendly face to those who needed a chat could provide comfort on the long road to recovery.

First, James showed up at the local pub where residents were gathering to exchange stories and offer support. As he mingled, he also took the opportunity to let them know that the Post Office was still open and he was still delivering their mail.

James then made it his mission to ensure that those who’d lost their homes could continue receiving their mail through Australia Post’s Mail Redirection service. Together with his manager, James distributed Mail Redirection flyers to everyone they met. They drove through fire-affected areas jotting down addresses of houses that no longer stood.

“I’d pop a Mail Redirection form into the bundle of mail addressed to those homes and leave them at the Post Office for when those customers were ready to pick them up,” James says.

James wasn’t the only one in Gidgegannup helping residents. Volunteers from Red Cross were also there to offer support, and in James’ words, “do the great work they always do whenever there’s a disaster.”

Many who lost their homes still live in temporary housing on empty, burnt out blocks as they wait for the chance to rebuild their lives. James’ determination to keep his community connected during a difficult time is a deeply appreciated one that has helped restore a sense of normality in their lives.

“These people have lost more than a house; they’ve lost part of their lives,” he says. “They have bigger things to worry about than whether their mail arrives on time. If I can at least help with that, I’m taking one more thing off their plate and giving them back something that feels reassuringly normal.”