4 June 2007: A university based research team has found that many people affected by the 2003 bushfires believe their local communities and neighbourhoods were strengthened after the fires and that the Bushfire Recovery Centre at Lyons became a lifeline to those who had lost their homes or had suffered other losses.
The research report, “Recovering from the 2003 Canberra bushfire: A work in progress” is based on a survey answered by more than 500 people and a follow-up interview process. The project was conducted by researchers from Australian Catholic University (ACU National), the University of Canberra and the ACT Department of Health, and funded by Emergency Management Australia, under their Research and Innovation Program, with support from the ACT Government.
Designed to find out what helps people to recover after a disaster, and what gets in the way of recovery, a survey was mailed in April 2006 to the 1,600 Canberra households who registered with the ACT Bushfire Recovery Centre following the January 2003 bushfire. The research focused only on the period following the bushfire, and did not examine actual firefighting or any public warnings issues.
The research team, bringing together expertise from government, mental health, social work, communication and media, investigated the process of individual and community recovery so as to provide insights for other communities facing similar challenges.
The majority of respondents to the survey rated the ACT Bushfire Recovery Centre (the “one stop shop” in Lyons for people affected by the bushfire) as a great initiative, many saying that they could not have survived without it.
As well as the extensive range of support coordinated through the Recovery Centre, the sources of greatest help and support identified by many participants were family, friends, neighbours and work colleagues who showed compassion and understanding, and gave practical material and financial help.
Also noted by respondents were many examples of simple random acts of kindness, often from complete strangers, that people saw as evidence of the generosity and understanding displayed by many in the wider community.
The research reveals that recovery is a long process with a complex array of responses from affected people. For example, respondents struggled with many issues before making the decision to rebuild or to move to a new location. But although many households have moved a number of times before settling to their new homes, 83 per cent of respondents are “satisfied” or “very satisfied” with their current accommodation.
While the research findings show a good general recovery among the affected community, a considerable number of respondents continue to experience ongoing mental health and psychosocial problems similar to those reported after other natural disasters in Australia. The research highlights the need for focused strategies to optimise mental health outcomes for people affected by future disasters.
Respondents saw the provision of recovery information generally as being either “helpful” or “very helpful”, although information availability was a problem for some. The ACT Bushfire Recovery Taskforce’s newsletter, Community Update, was especially singled out for praise.
The research found that the local media, especially The Canberra Times and local ABC radio and television, served Canberra well in their coverage of recovery-related issues since the bushfire. The types of stories and media coverage that people found most (and least) helpful are also canvassed in the report.
The report is available at Emergency Management Australia’s website ( www.ema.gov.au ).
Dr Gail Winkworth
Australian Catholic University
Phone: 02 6209 1100
Dr Susan Nicholls
University of Canberra
Phone: 02 6201 5720
Ms Chris Healy
Former director, ACT Bushfire Recovery Centre
Phone: 0407 553 207
Australian Catholic University (ACU National) – established as Australia’s only Catholic, national, publicly funded university – is open to all. The University empowers its students and staff with a strong sense of social responsibility and concern for the moral and ethical dimensions of their study and their professional and personal lives.