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Lens makers leave the lab for rural bushfire response

A team of volunteers left the comfort of their optical laboratory for the charred, rugged landscapes of rural Victoria as part of efforts to aid the bushfire recovery.

Melbourne-based CR Surfacing Laboratories, which manufactures ophthalmic lenses for independent practices across Australia and New Zealand, may not be able to match the major donations of the larger corporates, but the company has contributed its most valuable resource – people.

Thirteen staff members made the four-hour drive to Bruthen, in East Gippsland, on Friday to spend the weekend helping bushfire-affected farmers get back on their feet.

Eliana Varga, CR Surfacing Laboratories.

The scene was a vastly different environment to their Dandenong optical laboratory, which features state-of-the-art lens processing machinery and systems, including the latest free-form progressive technology.

As part of their efforts, the team tore down 3.3km of damaged fencing and rebuilt 500m of new fencing in its place in two days.

The project was arranged through Blaze Aid, a volunteer-based organisation that coordinates work in rural Australia following natural disasters.

CR Surfacing Laboratories Executive Project and HR Manager Ms Eliana Varga said the team camped near the disaster zone and were stunned by the devastation. Roads were blocked off and they were also trained to look for “killer trees” that could topple over at any moment.

“It was shocking to see, as you’re driving across you could smell the fire still. Practically, everyone’s face, hair and arms were black by the end of it, because everything had been turned to charcoal,” Varga said.

“I expected the famers to be devastated, but they were shockingly optimistic and they were saying they feel overwhelmed by the generosity of everyone, so it definitely restores your faith in humanity.”

Varga said the company would now research to see whether its clients, which include some 500 independent optometry practices, would contribute to a similar event.
“Over the last five years I’ve been involved with several volunteer projects, and there is nothing more rewarding than seeing the results. My dream for the future is to build up a network of volunteer optometrists and dispensers, combined with a charity fund and our optical lenses, to provide free eyecare and eyewear to those in need in Australia,” she said.

The volunteers removed 3.3km of damaged fencing and rebuilt 500m of new fencing in two days.