The 7th of February 2014 marked five years since the 2009 Victorian bushfires. Everyone within Victoria remembers that day and their personal experience of the extreme heat and wind. However, not everyone had the same loss; affected communities were profoundly changed, with many people losing a sense of safety along with fences, houses, pets, livestock and worse still; loved ones. It is a time that has been acknowledged each year since February 2009 at a central memorial event in the city of Melbourne (along with other local events). This year is the first memorial event that I have attended. It was a lovely tribute to everyone who experienced the bushfires in 2009 through a time of reflection. The speakers discussed how far people have come and the future and possibilities that are ahead. The proceedings included inviting people to come forward and sprinkle rose petals in water, an opportunity for many people to be involved in an event that was so large. It was also a personal way for people to stop and remember.
Music began and concluded the official proceedings with the amazing Nillumbik Youth Choir which was a lovely way to finish the formalities. It can be viewed by clicking here.
As researchers in bushfire recovery we had the opportunity to contribute to the event by working with the Fire Recovery Unit to produce a project called The Bigger Picture. This initiative collated photographs taken by community members that expressed their recovery experiences in the five years since the 2009 bushfires. This was displayed at the anniversary event on a large screen and many people took time to stop and absorb the photos that were submitted. Many of these images are both beautiful and touching and are available for public viewing on the project website.
The range of experiences and feelings represented in the photos mirror those we have been hearing about in our research with community members over the last few years. They show the long term impacts of this disaster on people’s lives and reflect the varying stages of recovery that coexist within impacted communities. This is important to remember and acknowledge when working amongst those affected by disaster.
This anniversary event focused on individual experiences and on the future for these communities. Not everyone would have felt comfortable attending the statewide anniversary event and there were many local community gatherings that may have been an alternative. Some, no doubt, will have preferred not to mark the anniversary by attending a formal ceremony. We just hope people spent this time doing what was best for them.
Elyse Snowdon, Research Fellow