“We got to meet people who’d been badly affected by the bushfires and got to know some of them really well. We learnt so much from those people about what they’d gone through and we made some really good friendships. For my partner, as a highway patrol officer, it’s been a more personal and rewarding experience for her than what she often deals with handing out tickets. When she’s out taking photos it clears her head. We also learnt a great deal taking photos of the bush and watching it recover and actually understanding the process of how the bush regenerates. Once there was some plant growth the ladybirds and insects started to return and then slowly other animals came back, and that was extraordinary to watch.
Some of the local neighbourhood centres encouraged people who had been really traumatised by the fires to get out in to the bush and have a look at what was happening, how it was recovering, to help them not feel so afraid to be living up here.”
Some people were very traumatised by the fires and decided not to rebuild their homes or chose to move away from the region. From the stories we were told many people were very lucky they didn’t die in the fires. I don’t think the trauma’s gone away for a lot of people. I mean after the bushfires, some people were too traumatised to talk. The churches and such arranged community meals where residents could just go and have a meal together. They could sit and talk about daily events, and that’s may be what they needed in the early days, to feel part of the community without necessarily needing to talk about the fires. Sometimes it’s about getting your brain off the track. Community support, meals, seeing a film together it can all be helpful at the start.
“After an emergency when there has been loss of homes it is common to hear people say, “It’s just stuff, it can be replaced’, but your memories can be tied up in your possessions. If you lose possessions your memories of them and about them can be completely lost. People lose their photos, all the things they’ve inherited from their parents, reminders of their children’s childhoods, favourite clothes and toys, tools they’ve collected so they can practice a hobby. For older people the loss can be greater as there are so many memories attached to their possessions.
It’s quite a long process for people to rebuild homes. They put their energy into rebuilding, buy new things and then when they move in it doesn’t feel anything like home as nothing really feels familiar.
After an emergency a whole lot of money and resources goes to communities for the recovery phase but after a few years the funds dry up – it’s like ‘you should be better now’.
For many people, though, there are ongoing issues. When people smell smoke or hear sirens it takes them back to where they were. And because bushfires are an ongoing problem here, it never goes away. Every year we face the same problems. It’s pretty much inevitable we’ll face serious fires up here in the future.”