On Wednesday 24 April, Professor Ruth Webber presented a seminar to ACU staff on Rebuilding Communities after Natural Disasters: A Catholic Response to the 2009 Victorian Bushfires. Below, Professor Webber writes about her research.
In February 2009 Victoria experienced the worst bushfires in the state’s history, culminating in ‘Black Saturday’. One hundred and seventy-three (173) people died, many more were injured and some towns were almost annihilated.
In response, the Archbishop’s Charitable Fund Bushfire Appeal collected nearly $4 million from the Catholic community of Australia. The Catholic Community Bushfire Response was established operating in conjunction with Centacare Gippsland, Sandhurst and Melbourne. It received funding from the Catholic Archbishop’s Bushfire Appeal to provide sustainable programs to communities affected by the bushfires.
Professor Ruth Webber and Dr Kate Jones conducted a three-year study of this project. They found that a commitment to provide support and services over a three year period has some highly positive outcomes.
The manager of the project immediately conducted a needs analysis and 18 people experienced in community development, arts therapy and trauma counselling were appointed. Community development became the focus of the work.
In each region, the team collaborated with community members and other organisations to identify projects that would best meet a community’s needs. Staff were involved in organising social gatherings, outings and getaways such as trips to the Royal Melbourne Agricultural Show, a community bus trip to an agricultural field day, a women’s week-end retreat and the ‘Men’s Getaway Fishing Trip’.
Centacare Melbourne (CatholicCare) cooperated with the state government to obtain ‘The Big Screen’, a large LED outdoor screen previously housed in Melbourne CBD. This was used to broadcast sports events and movies with the anticipation of providing respite and relief to Marysville residents.
The team acted as facilitators and supported local people in establish or re-establish small businesses and other projects. In conjunction with Community of the Ground Assistance (COGA), Melbourne staff obtained a bob-cat, chain saw and trailer so locals from the Kinglake region could obtain the necessary equipment to enable people from to clear their blocks and gather firewood.
The Catholic Response has enabled the three agencies to develop processes and skills in community recovery that will assist them in responding quickly and efficiently to another disaster.