2009 Victorian Bushfires Anniversary Event

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.

Postcard_bigger Pic

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

Email: snowdone@unimelb.edu.au


The ins and outs of data linkage

Data linkage can sound a bit daunting and perhaps boring for those who have not come across it in their research experience. I thought I would go over some of the basics so you can start to think more about the potential for data linkage when planning your own research.  Data linkage is slowly becoming more common and can be extremely useful to enrich the data used in your research.

What is data linkage?


Data linkage, as it sounds, is the joining of two or more data sets that have information on the same participant. This could be information from a similar time or could enable you to look at information from different time point in the life course of the participant. For example we are currently looking at data from a child’s School Entrant Health Questionnaire, when they are five years old, linked to NAPLAN results when they are nine. This has enabled a wealth of information to be available on a child’s demographics, health and development and their later education outcomes. For example we can now ask ‘which health conditions have a significant impact on education outcomes?’ or ‘does attendance at early childhood services improve education outcomes?’ These questions can have important implications on policy, service delivery and service evaluation.

A simple way to link data is when there is a unique identifier in both data sets such as a student identification number or a medical record number. It is then very easy to match the data on this identifier. Unfortunately in Victoria this is not a common occurrence. Legislation in different states and countries often dictates the possibility and ease of data linkage. Researchers, such as Fiona Stanley, have advocated for and pioneered data linkage at a population level to significantly enhance the power of research.  

When there is no unique identifier linking must rely on common variables within both data sets that help to ensure the participant in one set of data is the one being linked to in the other set. Such variables are usually name, sex, age and postcode. A Statistical Linkage Key (SLK) combines letters and number of variables to create a unique identifier and is a common system for linkage. The letters used are the 2nd, 3rd and 5th letters of the family name and the 2nd and 3rd letters of the given name.

Currently data linkage for research is commonly carried out by an independent data linkage agency that takes the data from the data custodians, links the data and then gives the de-identified data to the researchers. This is an extremely simplified version of a costly and lengthy process.



When looking at a linked dataset it is important to account for any bias that may have occurred. For example one set of the data may be missing some of the cohort. Also depending on which variables were used to link there may be additional bias introduced. In the SEHQ-NAPLAN data, one set only has information on children attending government school. Additionally the data was linked on where the children lived so any child that moved may not be included. It is important to look at who within both dataset were and were not linked and how these children may differ. To note, a data linkage rate of around 60% is quite good.

Lastly I will touch on the ethics of data linkage. Participants may have agreed to research being carried out on the initial study you have undertaken but it is likely that they have not agreed for that data to be linked to other information about them. If it is possible to include the potential for data linkage in the initial participant consent headaches along the way can be avoided.

I hope this brief introduction to the ins and outs of data linkage may be of use in your future research. I imagine the more researchers advocate for and use data linkage the more accessible it becomes.


Written by Shae Johnson

Cohort and Platform Data Programs Coordinator

Jack Brockhoff Child Health & Wellbeing Program

e: shae.johnson@unimelb.edu.au

Obesogenic Australia: Would you like any chocolates with that?

Guest blog by Alexandria Hoare, Dietitian (APD, AN)

On my half hour commute home from work each day I directly pass 4 McDonalds, 2 KFC’s and 1 Hungry Jacks. Recently, I had to stop off to fill up with petrol on my way home. The service station was packed wall to wall with chips, chocolates, icecreams and sugar filled drinks. As I went to pay I was not greeted with ‘hello, how are you?’ but ‘would you like any chocolates, 2 for $3?’ I got back into my car (chocolate free) and as I drove I listened to the ads on the radio telling me that I had to get in quick to try the limited addition burger from McDonalds, how Coca-Cola brings happiness to summer and how I can win tickets to the tennis if I eat Drumsticks. I decided to go out of my way to go to the supermarket (as I do not directly pass any, unlike the fast food restaurants).  As I entered I was faced with front end advertising promoting sales on soft drink, chips and sugary lunch box fillers. I decided not to purchase these products but just in case I changed my mind I was greeted with more calorie dense, nutrient poor food at the checkout.


This is what you call an obesogenic environment. Where the environment we live in makes unhealthy choices the easier option. And that’s just looking at half the picture. Don’t forget the endless amounts of labour saving devices which allow you to stay in the comfort of your own home for days, months, even years on end if you wish. People are told to eat healthy and to be physically active but how can they achieve that when the environment is encouraging them to do the exact opposite? If we are serious about tackling the obesity epidemic we need to create supportive environments. Environments where the healthy choice is the easy choice. 

Many countries worldwide have started to step up their efforts to tackle their obesogenic environments. In the UK and Korea national programs have been launched to reduce trans fats in food, in Japan employees have mandatory waist measurements enforced by their insurance company, Hungary has a tax of high sugar foods, Finland a tax on confectionary, France a tax on soft drinks and Denmark introduced a tax on foods that contain more than 2.3% saturated fat. Some of these strategies are showing some promising results, others are not, but at least they’re trying.

What can we do about obesogenic Australia? I don’t have the answer but let’s at least try to do something. What about restrictions on the marketing and promotion of high calorie, sugary foods or food policies to reduce the price of fresh produce, introducing a traffic light system on food packaging, menu labelling at restaurants, limitations on product placement in supermarkets,  working with food industries to make healthier more affordable foods, mandatory nutrition and physical education in schools, healthier foods to be available at school canteens, sporting venues and service stations, better urban planning to promote physical activity, accessible healthy food and active commuting?

Let’s put more funding into research, collecting evidence and determining what interventions are more successful. What lessons can we learn from countries like Japan, Switzerland and Norway where they have some of the lowest rates of obesity in the developed world?

For these changes to occur the whole of society will need to get on board. Federal, state and local governments, non-government organisations, schools, communities, health and food industries, sporting clubs and the media all have the potential to make some changes for the better, to promote a healthy lifestyle and to help reduce our obesogenic environment.  

If we are serious about tackling obesity our environment needs to change. We need to create supportive environments so the healthy choice is the easy choice. 


Written by Alexandria Hoare
Dietitian (APD, AN)
BHSc, MDiet