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Carolyn Atkins 08. VCOSS VOX POP


Christine Hendry 012.  IN CONVERSATION: Deputy Premier Peter Ryan 016.  LIFE IN TRAUMA Ruth Wraith

020.  WILD FIRES Jill Miller 024.  WHAT WORKS: Festival for Healthy Living



Publisher  Cath Smith Editor  Marie McInerney Design  Nicole Dominic Printer  Blueprint

Carolyn Atkins is Deputy Director at the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS), responsible for policy on health, Indigenous issues, rural and regional Victoria, and cross sector and cross government policy and relations.

Insight is printed on recycled paper, using vegetable-based inks, by an ISO 1400-accredited printer. Acknowledgements All our contributors; Ruth Wraith; Marg Hamley, David Hall and Alison Dyson (Berry Street), Harry Gelber (Festival for Healthy Living), Office of the Deputy Premier; Carolyn Atkins, Kate Colvin, Claire Bauska, Michelle Lane, Jess Fritze (VCOSS); Insight editorial committee Angela Savage, Sarah Pollock, and Alexandra Gartmann; Grant Reaby (Blueprint) Articles are subject to copyright. Apart from dealings under the Copyright Act 1968, permission must be obtained from both VCOSS and the author.



Level 8, 128 Exhibition Street Melbourne 3000


Denis Muller



Penelope Hawe



Heather Holst

034. WHERE PHILANTHROPY FITS Jo Mason, Alexandra Gartmann 036.  THE TWO OF US:

David Hall and Alison Dyson



Tom Cho

03 9654 5050

Alexandra Gartmann is the Chief Executive Officer of the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR) in Bendigo. Christine Hendry is Executive Director of the Midwifery and Maternity Providers Organisation in New Zealand. Professor Penelope Hawe is the founder of the Population Health Intervention Research Centre at the University of Calgary. Dr Heather Holst is General Manager Client Services of HomeGround Services in Melbourne.

VCOSS raises awareness of the existence, Jo Mason is the Natural Disaster causes and effects of poverty and Recovery Manager at the inequality, and contributes to initiatives Foundation for Rural and Regional seeking to create a more just society. Renewal (FRRR) in Bendigo. Jill Miller is the Chief Executive Officer Join the Twitter conversation at @vcoss of Grampians Community Health. Disclaimer: The opinions Dr Denis Muller is a Visiting Fellow expressed by our contributors do not at the Centre for Public Policy and necessarily reflect VCOSS policy. the Centre for Applied Philosophy Accessible format and Public Ethics at the University of If you would like to receive this Melbourne, and the author of Black Saturday: In the media spotlight. publication in an accessible

format, please telephone 03 9654 5050 or email

ISSN 1838-5184 ISBN 978-0-949748-82-9

Tom Cho is a Melbourne-based author, whose first book, Look Who’s Morphing, was shortlisted for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book (South East Asia and Pacific), 2009 Age Book of the Year (Fiction) and Melbourne Prize Trust’s 2009 Best Writing Award.




EDITORIAL. Few of us who live in Victoria will forget the summer of 2008-09 which began with its terrible toll in heatwave deaths and culminated in the tragedy of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires. Not quite two years later came the floods of 2010-11 – their death toll, thankfully, was far less but they traumatised many new communities and some that were still recovering from bushfires and the slow ache of enduring drought. The community sector has played, of course, a pivotal role in response and recovery in each of these emergency events. It also came under extreme pressure to step up to new demands in very short timeframes while still maintaining long-standing services and supports, to manage new or competing funding and administrative arrangements, and to look after its own staff – many of whom were not just dealing with the trauma of others, but experiencing it themselves. Many of our traditional communities, already vulnerable, faced new challenges and trauma from these disastrous events, and people who had never dealt with a counsellor or community sector agency in their lives suddenly found themselves in need. That those who had lived through other disasters were re-traumatised only underscored the complexity and long-term impact of such events. The impact has also, of course, been greatest in rural and regional areas of Victoria, which already face major social, economic and climatic challenges and include some of the most disadvantaged communities in the state. The Victorian Council of Social Service has sought to draw out the lessons and challenges for the community sector from these events, to look at where the risk falls most heavily. This edition of Insight is part of that focus, aiming to highlight what works and what doesn’t as the State Government begins to reshape its emergency management arrangements and as we mark new anniversaries of these recent disasters. We feature insights from Ruth Wraith, who has led psychosocial care particularly for children and young people in so many major disasters since the 1983 Ash

Wednesday fires; Penelope Hawe from the University of Calgary, who was invited by the Department of Human Services soon after the 2009 Bushfires to explore the scope for community recovery; Deputy Premier and Emergency Minister Peter Ryan, who had barely set up his office before he had to deal with the new emergencies; and journalist and academic Denis Muller on a timely investigation into the role and impact of the media in a disaster. We canvass the views of many community sector leaders about what they did and learnt in a range of disasters; explore where philanthropy can do things that government can’t; look at what sorts of programs work; and reflect on how other emergencies – like the everyday and ongoing crises experienced by people who are homeless – don’t attract the same responses and resources. Finally, because summer is also about taking time out and putting our heads in a different space, we return in this edition with more Insight Fiction, featuring the work of award-winning young Melbourne author Tom Cho. As always, we welcome your thoughts and feedback, and wish you all the best for 2012.

Cath Smith VCOSS CEO December 2011





the ongoing impacts of disasters Victorian community sector organisations have been at the frontline in responses to the disasters that have hit Victoria in recent years. VCOSS Deputy Director Carolyn Atkins looks at the priorities and challenges for the sector as the State Government reframes emergency management in Victoria. Disasters do not impact everyone in the same way, and it is often our vulnerable community members who are the hardest hit1. Nearly three years ago, Victoria experienced the biggest natural disaster ever to hit Australia with the devastating 2009 Victorian Bushfires, which – on and around 7 February 2009 – killed 173 people, devastated dozens of towns and displaced more than 7,000 people2. Members of Victoria’s community sector organisations were only hours behind emergency services into the affected communities – even while some were having to ward off flames at their own homes, or suffering from personal loss and trauma themselves. Many are still there, embedded in local communities – supporting them with ongoing and emerging issues, helping to build resilience and recovery, and seeking to prepare for future emergencies, big and small.

As the peak body of the community sector in Victoria, the Victorian Council of Social Service (VCOSS) has worked with organisations and local governments involved in both bushfire and flood responses to identify what has worked well, what needs to be improved, and what are unmet and emerging community needs. The feedback is that many responses and arrangements have been effective and others are improving. However, major gaps remain. The State Government is currently reviewing Victoria’s emergency management arrangements and has released a Green Paper3 inviting comment, ahead of delivering a White Paper in early 2012. The ‘all hazards, all agencies’ approach that it is promoting must recognise the role and demands of community sector organisations and that proper psychosocial resources are as important for long-term recovery and resilience as equipping fire trucks and building new roads and bridges.

DISASTERS AND RESILIENCE A resilient community predicts and anticipates disasters, absorbs and recovers from the shock, and improvises and innovates in its response4.

Some communities and organisations have barely had a break. Less than two years after the fires, large parts of Victoria were hit by the 2010-11 floods. Some deluged areas had only just been emerging from a decade of chronic drought and the 2006 Grampian bushfires.

The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) recognised in late 2009 that natural disasters are a feature of the Australian climate and landscape and that weather patterns are becoming less predictable and more extreme5. The State Government also observes that Victoria is experiencing more regular and more severe natural events and notes CSIRO predictions of more extreme bushfires, floods, droughts, and storm surges6. Areas like East Gippsland are living proof, having experienced floods, drought, fires, and landslips over a decade.

These disasters – as well as the Queensland and New South Wales floods and Cyclone Yasi earlier this year – have prompted massive emergency response and recovery operations, funded and directed by governments at all levels, urged on by a groundswell of community support, and characterised mostly by goodwill between agencies.

Converting those predictions into personal impacts, it is expected that one in six Victorians is likely to be affected by an emergency in their lifetime7 – and many will experience more than one. The impact is not just about the way the disaster strikes but, for many, what vunerability lay there before. The COAG National Disaster Resilience Statement notes that all

1. National Emergency Management Committee, Council of Australian Governments, National Disaster Resilience Statement, 7 December 2009, available at outcomes/2011-02-13/docs/national_strategy_disaster_resilience.pdf 2. Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission, Final Report, State of Victoria, July 2010, available at

3. Victorian Government, Towards a more disaster resilient and safer Victoria: Green paper: options and issues, Security and Emergency Management Branch, Department of Premier and Cabinet, 2011. 4. Aguirre B, On the concept of resilience, Disaster Research Centre, University of Delaware, in Hawe P, Community recovery after the February 2009 Victorian bushfires: a rapid review, Department of Health, Victorian Government, 2009. 5. Op cit. National Emergency Management Committee. 6. Op cit. Victorian Government. 7. McFarlane A, ‘Psychiatric morbidity following disasters: Epidemiology, risk and protective factors’, in López-Ibor GC, Maj M, Sartorious N, & Okasha A Eds, Disasters and mental health, West Sussex, Wiley, 2005, pp.37–63.



communities are different and have different levels of exposure to disaster risk, and their resilience will be influenced by a range of factors, including remoteness, population density and mobility, socioeconomic status, age profile, and percentage of population for whom English is a second language8. International research highlights that, even though everyone may appear to have been exposed to the same event, disasters are ‘profoundly discriminatory, with pre-existing structures and social conditions determining that, in the long run, some people will be less affected, while others will pay a higher price9.’ As a result, we are seeing a shift nationally from traditional emergency management planning – ‘emergency response’ – to an approach focused on ‘action-based resilience planning to strengthen local capacity and capability, with greater emphasis on community engagement and a better understanding of the diversity, needs, strengths and vulnerabilities within communities.’10 That approach is also leading governments to talk more about individuals and communities having to take ‘greater responsibility for their own safety’. In Victoria, the Government is considering adopting the New Zealand Government’s ‘get ready, get thru’ policy in which households and communities are expected to look after themselves for at least three days after a disaster11. How fair and realistic that approach would be will depend on more than just community education programs. We know that often the poorest and most vulnerable are hit the hardest by disaster events because they lack the community infrastructure or personal resources to protect themselves. The last decade in Victoria also has taught us that emergencies are not standalone events, divorced from daily reality and all the other work done by governments and other key agencies. Put simply: access to good transport, affordable housing, education, jobs and health care will not only improve lives generally, but lessen the impact of disasters and allow quicker and better recovery.

8. Op cit. National Emergency Management Committee. 9. The tsunami’s impact on women, Oxfam International, 2005, in Hawe P. 10. O p cit. National Emergency Management Committee. 11. Op cit. Victorian Government.


Notes from the Horsham, Bendigo roundtables: June, July 2011 • The water has long receded in most areas, but the talk is of the insidious nature of a flood: of how the water may sit below the floorboards for a week, seep into the stumps, developing mould, and then make people sick (record rates of respiratory illness). • Higher numbers of spring lamb deaths due to the ewes grazing on flood-affected land, where soil or grass was contaminated. • Many people have had to use their holiday leave to volunteer, rebuild, or clean up. • Accumulated debt within communities and lack of cash flow is putting pressure on local businesses. • Some people are only now coming forward to access psychosocial support. • ‘The culture here of being seen to be resilient can mean that many don’t seek the support they need early enough.’ • The additional stress of the floods has brought underlying social and economic issues to the surface. • Households are starting to face mortgage foreclosure and don’t know where to go for help. • Families with young children have been hard hit with loss of childcare services, support groups and other informal social supports. • Many people are living in properties which now lack insulation, fittings and furnishings, or heating. People are experiencing health impacts, including chest infections. • A hospital counsellor reports working on a 90 household caseload in contrast to the roughly 1:10 ratio of case managers to affected households following the bushfires.



LONG-TERM PSYCHOSOCIAL SUPPORT “... the immediate traumatic reactions; the repressed and denied feelings that only surface later; the guilt many people have about accepting help when they feel that others have lost more; the need to fully come to terms with and grieve losses before rebuilding can be embraced; marriage strain as partners think and deal differently with what is lost; the different anxiety factors involved in the choice to leave the area permanently versus the sense of mastery that appeared be present (or subsequently developed) in those who chose to stay in a fire affected area.”12 In recent emergency events in Victoria, the message from community sector organisations and local governments has been that it is easier to secure resources to replace and rebuild physical infrastructure, such as roads and bridges, than for equally critical social recovery work, such as counselling and outreach services, with a tendency by the Government to dismiss examples of identified need. It has also been hard to win an understanding of the need for long-term supports. Victoria’s current emergency management arrangements tend to assume a return to ‘normal’ community capacity and economic activity in a relatively short timeframe. This imposes unrealistic timeframes and expectations. For example, in June 2011, organisations were frustrated by pressure to quantify the full mental health impacts on the community from the January floods. Such a measure, in fact, would be misleading as many in the community were yet to come forward seeking help – a delay consistent with psychosocial recovery research which tells us that the recovery process for different individuals will vary significantly. Lack of longer-term supports will mean that when they do ask for help, they will face waiting times and/or need to travel to larger centres – barriers that many may find too great. The World Health Organisation estimates that, 12 months after an emergency, the prevalence of severe mental health problems will rise from 2-3 per cent to 3-4 per cent and moderate mental disorders will increase 10-20 per cent.13 In Victoria, the evaluation of the psychosocial response to the 2009 Bushfires notes that 10 to 20 per cent of affected people risk developing significant mental health conditions and requiring specialised mental health care following disasters.14 12. Op cit. Hawe P, p.4. 13. Van Ommeren M, Saxena S & Saraceno B, ‘Mental and social health during and after emergencies: emerging consensus?’, Bulletin of the World Health Organisation, vol. 83, 2005, pp. 71-76. 14. Australian Healthcare Associates, Evaluation of the psychosocial response to the 2009 Victorian Bushfires, Final report, for the Victorian Government, November 2010.


Unsurprisingly, some are at greater risk: children, young people, and their families; the elderly and people with a disability; people with a pre-existing mental illness; those who are bereaved; people whose communities have been destroyed, have limited social support, are socially and economically disadvantaged, or have ‘low pre-existing psychological resilience’.15 The evaluation makes the case for a central focus after disasters on psychosocial recovery, for it to take place over a period of years and to be fully integrated with other recovery efforts. Stella Avramopoulos, Chief Executive Officer of Kildonan UnitingCare, gives a good example which began with a talk by North Melbourne footballer and Bali bombings survivor Jason McCartney to members of a football club in one of Victoria’s bushfire-affected towns. From that, with Kildonan’s support, club members developed a peer support network, out of particular concern for some local men who they sensed had cut themselves off. Thirty-five peer leaders were trained and went on to speak with and support hundreds of local people. When the floods hit other areas of Victoria, a group of peer leaders headed off to support affected farmers. As Stella explained: “The farmers say: ‘We wouldn’t have spoken to anyone else, but they get us’. That’s one example of the kind of programs we’ve been working on, in terms of really building community capacity, and putting the community back in the driving seat in recovery, but also supporting future disaster victims.”16

PLANNING AND RESOURCES Many organisations and local governments who responded to the 2010-11 floods observed or benefited from increased coordination, improved communication, and strong response and recovery frameworks developed by the State Government following the 2009 Victorian Bushfires. But there remain ongoing issues, not just for the people in need of support from community sector organisations, but for the organisations and their staff themselves. Community sector organisations are pivotal to response and recovery, yet their role is often overlooked, understated, or misunderstood, seen as largely representing or leading a ‘volunteer response’ to emergencies, instead of as professional partners 15. ibid. 16. Avramopoulos S, Cause not consequences: 2009 Victorian Bushfires, VCOSS Congress 2011, available at VCOSS%20docs/Congress/2011/congress_podcast.xml.




with specialist expertise that should be engaged before, during and long after disasters. An example of this was shown by the Federal Government after the Queensland floods, when community sector organisations were left off its Flood Taskforce.17 Following the 2009 Victorian Bushfires, one affected local government held a post-fires planning meeting and did not invite any community sector organisations. Prior to the bushfires and the 2010-11 floods, community sector organisations mostly had not been engaged in local municipal emergency planning, which sets the framework for community responses. This led to patchy and risky arrangements. For example, one local government had actively engaged all relevant community sector organisations in its plan; two neighbouring councils had not, but ‘copied and pasted’ the essentials into their plan. When the emergency struck, the two neighbouring councils discovered that the organisations they had identified to provide a range of community services were unaware of their inclusion and were already working at capacity for the first council. The need for community and social services in the wake of recent Victorian disasters, of course, has been massive and intense. As an illustration, the number of ‘households’ shown as registering for the Victorian Bushfire Case Management Service across Victoria peaked at 4,365 in May 200918, with 2,428 expressions reported to have come through direct phone and referrals from recovery centres in the first week. An expectation was set by the Federal and State Government that each case would be responded to within 24 hours from registration. Organisations have been stretched, but not just by the scale of the disasters. A number found themselves out of pocket because the Victorian Government has no effective mechanisms for emergencies reimbursement such as exists in Queensland. Organisations here found themselves having to ask for flexibility from their bank managers rather than from the Government, with one overdrawn by $85,000 in the first three months – a major impost for a not-for-profit organisation. In other cases, it was too hard to meet the requirements for recompense in the midst of a disaster response: such as an email sent by DHS after the 2009

17. Australian Council of Social Service, ACOSS urges Parliament to pass flood levy, Media release, 7 February 2011, available at au/media/release/acoss_urges_parliament_to_pass_flood_levy 18. V ictorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority, Legacy report: overview, Victorian Government, June 2011.

Victorian Bushfires asking organisations to provide, within a week, a list of their additional expenses. As one CEO who had been ‘up on the mountain’ since day two after the fires remarked, ‘I don’t have the energy to turn around a request like that, even if we are out of pocket.’ Red tape also impacted on operations under the VBCMS in particular. There was micromanagement by government departments at the practice level, while communication was insufficient on contractual issues: organisations often only heard through media interviews with politicians or agencies whether or not contracts would be extended – and therefore jobs and services funded. The longer-term impacts on organisations from their involvement in disasters, including the personal toll on staff and, often, high staff turnover, also needs to be considered in funding. Staff are diverted from their everyday clients and services – for example, 65 per cent of Kildonan UnitingCare’s staff was involved in 2009 Victorian Bushfires work – and from longer-term organisational investment, such as applying for new funding or developing new programs. Grampians Community Health Chief Executive Jill Miller gives more details about these pressures in her article in this edition.

THE WAY AHEAD Victoria has been hit by unprecedented disasters in recent times, at great cost to individuals, communities and the State. But with disaster comes opportunity. We could lead the way in both emergency management and building stronger communities if we heed the lessons from these events. The State Government’s White Paper on emergency management, however, will only deliver on its intentions if it commits to long-term psychosocial support following disasters and recognises the pivotal role of community sector organisations in delivering critical services to our most vulnerable people and communities.

Carolyn Atkins is Deputy Director at the Victorian Council of Social Service.




VCOSS VOX POP Looking at government and community response, including that of your own organisation to the 2009 Victorian Bushfires and/or the 2010-11 Victorian floods – what was the biggest challenge, what worked best, and what has to be done differently? BERNIE DURKIN

General Manager: Regional Counselling Services, Health Promotion, Service Development and Bushfire Recovery, EACH

The biggest challenge with the 2009 Victorian Bushfires was the lack of an accessible, practical Psychosocial Recovery Plan around which communities and services could coalesce – a plan that had community buy-in; shared and co-constructed processes; prior established relationships and partnerships; and consistency of application across affected communities. While in most cases our services intuitively worked collaboratively, supported each other, shared resources, and paid scant regard to traditional boundaries, at some level we were ‘making it up as we went along’. There is a practical manual waiting to be written. What worked well was the flexibility and creativity of response from many services when invited to help. Freed from the restraints of contractual relationships, the challenge required different thinking and, before we knew it, collaboration was breaking out all

over the place. The anarchic part of me looks at what was generated and hankers for more of it. Given what we know from (clinical psychologist and disaster expert) Rob Gordon’s practice research, there is a strong case to be made for the creation of an outreach counselling/ psychosocial support service that straddles the five-year window. The evidence exists to show that many people requiring help will not come forward of their own volition to engage with the mainstream service system. For me ‘duty of care’ and the ‘precautionary principle’ align and require us to be proactive here. DAVID TENNANT

Chief Executive Officer, FamilyCare, Shepparton

In the days following the 2009 Bushfires, FamilyCare was one of a number of community agencies that decided it would take an active role in service provision to fire-affected communities. It was a decision based mainly on the emotions of the moment and driven by the natural community agency desire to help the communities they are part of. You can over-analyse that type of reaction. It is ultimately about the ‘stuff’ communities are made of – a desire to assist and support your neighbours, especially those who are grieving, have suffered loss or are exposed to vulnerability or disadvantage. In that way, the decision facing FamilyCare was not whether to help, but how best to do that. Faced with a similar set of challenges, we would

probably start in the same place. But having had the experience of being a bushfire service provider, we would probably make smarter decisions about how to design and deliver service responses. How we could do better: • Helping after an emergency requires special skills and careful support, and the needs of communities change dramatically in the days, weeks and months after a catastrophic event. We would be much more considerate in how we screened potential workers and much more active in helping those employed with what would be an emotional and draining journey. • We would share more and better with colleague agencies to ensure unnecessary overlap was minimised and maximum output achieved. • We would not accept that a database record of all client communications, owned and operated by government, was the best way to support our relationships with those clients. STEVEN TONG

Manager Community Development, Latrobe City Council

Well-established and purposeful relationships, effective networks, a history of successful partnerships, established community structures and strong community leadership are fundamental factors which contributed significantly to Latrobe City Council’s ability to carry out its role in recovery.




Large scale disasters such as the 2009 Bushfires and recent floods bring greater complexity and therefore coordination challenges. This is largely due to the high level of impact of these events on the affected communities, and the resulting increase in the number of support organisations, agencies, services and volunteers required to assist and support emergency response and recovery. The focus of response and recovery needs to include the necessary resources to be engaged and effectively utilised, including appropriately skilled people, and having sound systems and processes in place which are well understood by all potential partners. Due to the high level of personal and community funding and support that was available to affected communities, particularly from the 2009 Bushfires, there is now a risk that local government and other authorities will not be able to meet community expectations and aspirations in future disasters. It is therefore essential that local government works closely with communities to manage this, to build community confidence and to establish a realistic mutual understanding of what is likely to occur in future scenarios. While much continues to be learnt from these recent disaster experiences, building resilient communities is now an essential part of the emergency management landscape.


Fire Services Commissioner. Former Director of Emergency Management, Department of Human Services (DHS)

As Director of Emergency Management during the 2009 Victorian Bushfires and their aftermath, the greatest challenge was in understanding the size and impact of the fires upon the community and the state; the number of deaths; and the number of people displaced or made homeless by the tragedy. Leadership of the recovery sector after such a big event, including coordinating the engagement of government agencies and the community sector, along with maintaining the focus and energy to lead, and long days at the office, were also challenging. We discovered that bushfire-affected communities needed a one-stop-shop for information to make it easier for people to find all of the services that they needed and help available to them. These communities were able to access a range of Victorian Government services via community hubs, which were set up following the bushfires. We learned there was a need to better connect ‘relief’ to ‘recovery’, which has since been achieved and is now led by the DHS. There also needs to be a better approach to managing bushfire-affected communities after a major emergency, in which death, destruction and displacement occurs, to ensure that these communities get the help they need and are also able to help themselves. Because natural disasters such as fire and flood are accepted as part of the Victorian landscape, emergency management must be focused upon local communities. Communities also need to develop resilience so that they can recover after a disaster.


Chief Executive, Wimmera City Council

The biggest challenge with the floods was dealing with the uncertainty and, particularly, whether or not the flood data that we had would prove to be correct. Associated with that was dealing with different people’s reactions to that uncertainty and the different levels of resilience and ability to cope within the community. What really worked ultimately was that our flood predictions were relatively accurate. Also the willingness of the community, our staff and the staff of other agencies in and around Horsham to pitch in and do whatever was necessary to help get through. Not only their willingness to help but the initiative shown by so many people within our community and community organisations was just amazing and it was not until well after the event that you realise some of the things people have done; what they conceived, initiated and completed without any fuss, and their contribution to the whole outcome. In looking at what should be done differently, we acknowledge that we can do better. The challenge for us is to pass on the learning to a group which may not be confronted with similar issues for 30 years. How to do that effectively?





long-term process and, increasingly, evidence points to five and 10 year periods of supporting communities.

One of the biggest challenges for our region – given that it has been hit by many years of drought, then fire and, more recently, flood – has been to keep the community spirit alive. We believe the support our organisation offered in the way of providing outreach to individuals and families affected by the disasters was the most effective way to identify those requiring further assistance. By conducting these home visits, we were able to respond quickly and identify where further assistance was required.

The ability to connect to communities, in partnership with local government, community recovery committees or, indeed, directly with community members is a critical success factor in this ongoing work. We’ve been fortunate that many of our programs have been funded centrally but are able to be developed and delivered locally. The results are a more engaged community.

Chief Executive Officer, Wimmera UnitingCare

What has come out from a series of community meetings held with government agencies, nongovernment organisations and affected community members in our region was that the biggest area requiring improvement is communication between government organisations and the local community, as well as the need for government departments to call upon the local knowledge. ADAM DENT

State Manager Emergency Services, Red Cross

The last five years in Australia and, in particular, the last three years in Victoria have seen an unprecedented response by government, Red Cross and non-government organisations (NGOs) in the emergency management space. The key challenge for Red Cross and the NGO sector is sustaining the long-term support required for communities given the cumulative nature of emergencies. Work in bushfire affected Victoria continues, as does work in flood affected Victoria. Recovery is a

The challenges ahead are two-fold. The first is in building sustainable organisations, with an ongoing capacity and the ability to scale up in the event of a large-scale emergency. Secondly, we need to ensure that our arrangements and our planning always involve community as directly as possible, acknowledging that this is not easy – but essential. ANITA PELL

Berry Street Regional Director Hume until December 2010

Within weeks of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires, Berry Street was confirmed as a provider of the new Victorian Bushfire Case Management Service (VBCMS). Establishing such a large program – we recruited more than 50 staff across three sites – so quickly was a logistical challenge and diverted attention away from other areas of our work. It was also a completely new area of work for Berry Street and the VBCMS was an evolving program model for the State Government and all providers. So we drew on our strengths, including the local knowledge and acceptance we had in the Murrindindi area from working there for many years, and which helped us understand local needs and gain community trust at a time of immense vulnerability.

Through the work of Take Two, a therapeutic program for children and young people in the Child Protection system, we understood something of the trauma being experienced and brought in experts like Rob Gordon to educate staff. For staff, there was the issue of vicarious trauma, particularly for those who were locals and struggling with their own response to the disaster. A Take Two senior clinician was seconded to support the team, and we had provided regular ‘health checks’, access to debriefing, and individual and team support. The ‘trauma informed’ approach worked well and provides a useful model for disaster recovery initiatives. However, funding of the VBCMS assumed that affected people would need relatively short case management support. Some did, but others needed longer-term assistance. Berry Street, its staff and clients also had to deal with considerable uncertainty throughout the life of the VBCMS. We embarked on its delivery without a funding agreement, operating on the basis of goodwill. However communication about contracts, including contract extensions, was often unclear and untimely, which created unnecessary stress. Future disaster recovery programs should have contractual clarity and security from the outset, as we would expect for other government-funded programs. As well, our relationship with the Victorian Department of Human Services involved an unprecedented level of scrutiny which, at times, bordered on micromanagement. We understand the pressure on government from such a tragedy and the consequent media attention, but believe a genuine partnership approach should form the basis of any such recovery response.




Letter from Christchurch ‘On the 22 February 2011 there was a great big earthquake that struck Christchurch, New Zealand. It was 6.3 on the Ricter scale, 5kms deep and last but not least it was only 10kms out of Christchurch. Buildings are broken and roads are damaged there is lots and lots of flooding. I can’t forget to menchen the dirt in the air and the bricks everywhere. Theres helecopters in the air and army trucks everywhere. People are missing, people are dead and some people no longer have a home.’ Emily Hendry-Kerr, aged 11, 23 February 2011. Emily’s description shows how aware we all were in Christchurch of ‘earthquake speak’, though we were not well prepared when the massive quake struck in February. We were prepared for the one in June and we are now, five months and 7,231 aftershocks later. We have ‘telephone trees’, mobile phone lists of where to go and who to check. We know the best forms of communication: texting ‘r u ok’ can go quickly to multiple contacts. We know broadband will likely stay in place, as the wires are coiled. We keep our laptop batteries charged. We also know our neighbours: who needs help and who can help. After each major earthquake, community services took between three and five days to activate widely. We need to survive as a community by supporting each other in the meantime.


Next door I have two ‘earthquake refugees’, both women in their 60s. Each of their houses was destroyed in February and their properties have finally been deemed ‘red’, too risky to build on again. They now must negotiate a payout with the Government and their insurance companies. One has lost her husband, her job (made redundant after the earthquake) and now her house within a

year. For the other, half the students have left the school she teaches at. Her job will be in jeopardy next year. ‘Slowly the cracks show in relationships as couples move on at a different pace. Sudden overwhelming feelings of hopelessness and a paralytic inability to go out and face the day, the indignity of letting your work know you will not be in. You feel a failure; you have buckled under the pressure while others manage through.‘ Margaret, aged 63. What are the positive outcomes? I think we have learned to appreciate every day as it comes, to be kind and friendly to as many people as possible...We keep in regular touch, appreciate family, and see more of each other. At work it has required us to ‘future proof’ our businesses. How safe are our servers? Where should they go? We are more flexible and have reduced paperwork. We have no storage and work in much tighter spaces. But we have got to know our workmates better. Most of us have huddled together during the big quakes.

Christine Hendry

PS. from VCO S S The New Zealand Government has developed the ‘Get ready, get thru’ campaign2 to raise awareness of disaster preparedness. Households are advised to plan for an emergency and be able to look after themselves for at least three days. In its Green Paper3 on emergency management, the Victorian Government proposes adopting this model.

Executive Director of the Midwifery and Maternity Providers Organisation We provide practice management services to midwives throughout New Zealand. After the February earthquake we used ‘texting’ to update them daily about hospital availability for birthing women as well as which roads and bridges were open. We kept the service going using a diesel powered generator (donated by a farmer contact as we had no power, water or amenities for four days).

Graph shows earthquake movements around Christchurch from January to July 2011, from Canterbury Quake Live, available at QuakeYears/default.aspx

7 6 5 4 3 2 1 0




1. Christchurch was hit in September 2010 by a magnitude 7.1 earthquake, which caused significant damage but no direct fatalities. On 22 February 2011, another major quake struck, measuring 6.3 on the Richter scale and killing 181 people and causing massive damage. A large aftershock on 13 June 2011 caused considerable additional damage.




2. New Zealand Government, ‘Get ready, get thru’, available at 3. Victorian Government, Towards a more disaster resilient and safer Victoria, Green Paper: options and issues, Security and Emergency Management Branch, Department of Premier and Cabinet, Melbourne, September 2011, pp.45-47.







IN CONVERSATION: PETER RYAN VCOSS speaks with The Honourable Peter Ryan: Deputy Premier, Minister for Police and Emergency Services, Minister for Bushfire Response, Minister for Regional and Rural Development, and Leader of The Nationals Victoria in the Victorian Government. 1. What were the biggest lessons for you, as a local MP and now responsible Minister, from the 2009 Victorian Bushfires and the floods of 2010-11? I think the biggest lessons for us were to do with the necessity of having an ‘all hazards, all agencies’ approach to dealing with these major crises. When they do occur, you need to have a mechanism where the respective agencies with responsibility for dealing with them are able to do that – not only in their own right, but on what has become known as an interoperable basis, so they are all able to better work together, so that all players know exactly what the basic game plan is and what their particular role in it is going to be. That entails, by definition, municipal organisations having to have close conversations with the respective organisations upon which they are dependent for the provision of services when the moment comes. Those plans need to be carefully articulated, they need to be agreed between the parties, they need to be practised, and all of that goes to the prospect that they will work much better when the moment does inevitably come.

2. All the evidence points to an increasing frequency and severity of natural disasters – how is the Government acting to mitigate those risks? I would use up all your tape to go through all that we are doing. Suffice to say, without any particular order of priority, we have legislated that the Chief Commissioner of Police acts as the State Coordinator when these disasters happen; we have undertaken a Green Paper1 in relation to the basic principles of ‘all hazards, all agencies’ – the first review of the management of Victoria’s disasters in the last 30 years; we are implementing all 67 recommendations of the Bushfire Royal Commission, which entails 282 separate activities; and we have Neil Comrie’s inquiry into the floods2. Out of all of that, I think we will be much, much better placed as a State to be able to handle these situations when they inevitably happen again – because history tells us for certain they will.

3. Is it your sense that they are happening with more frequency and severity? I don’t know whether that is so. If you look at the Green Paper, (it lists) 31 disasters that have happened in Victoria since 1934. They begin with the floods in the Yarra Valley and go up, ironically, to the floods we’ve just experienced. But thrown into that we’ve got the collapse of the Westgate bridge (1970) and the explosion of the gas plant at Longford (1998); so there’s a variety of disasters that have occurred over those years, some of which are from natural causes and others not. The key point in this is having a structure to deal with them, irrespective of what may have caused them. 1. Victorian Government, Towards a more disaster resilient and safer Victoria: Green paper: options and issues, Security and Emergency Management Branch, Department of Premier and Cabinet, Melbourne, September 2011. 2. Mr. Neil Comrie, Bushfires Royal Commission Interim Report Implementation Monitor, was also appointed by the Victorian Government to head its review of flood warnings and emergency response efforts of the 2010-11 floods.



4. What are your priorities to ensure that individuals and communities can recover as well as possible – not only immediately after an event, but over the medium to long-term? We have in place a series of programs which are dedicated toward accommodating the longer term recovery. For example, we are very conscious that, for many people, recovering from these bushfires – where so many lives were lost, so many people injured, more than 2,000 homes destroyed – is a generational issue. There are people, when I go to these bushfire-affected areas, who are only now starting to show the impact of it; in the floods – thank goodness we only had two lives lost – but nevertheless there are people for whom there’s an enormous amount of harm been done and it’s important to support them on an ongoing basis. I had 20 years in law as a plaintiffs’ solicitor, so I’ve been very close to people who suffer the consequences of these dreadful events, having acted for them for a couple of decades. (In terms of impact) the greatest is the loss of a member of the family or close friend… Then there are those who are injured in the fires or floods who are continuing to struggle with those injuries; then there is the property loss issue in its many forms. Then there is the all important issue of dignity: personal dignity, the way in which these events can, in some cases, destroy people’s self-confidence. That might be because they become ill, or lose their job, or a member of family, or any one of a hundred reasons… but you get the same situation, where you need to be very careful in accommodating the needs of people who can easily fall into a depressive state unless they have got assistance available.

5. From the community sector’s perspective, it’s traditionally easier to secure postemergency funding for physical infrastructure like roads and bridges than for psychosocial support and community wellbeing. What is your sense of that? We are conscious of the need as I’ve just outlined. We have an absolute plethora of programs running, right now, today, which are still dedicated to the fire-affected communities and we continue to offer support in the flood-affected communities. In the case of the fires, we have made the transition into the Fire Recovery Unit3 to accommodate the ongoing needs of those people to whom I’ve just referred, while also – gently and respectfully and with dignity – helping them to move on as best that can be done. And in the case of the floods, we’ve still got many programs out there where we are looking to help people who are in need. We are conscious of and believe we are fulfilling the need, and for anybody who is in need, they’re always welcome to contact us (through) the Fire Recovery Unit. 3. The Fire Recovery Unit (FRU) was established on 1 July 2011 following the closure of the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority (VBRRA). FRU’s stated role is ‘to assist the ongoing recovery of communities impacted by the 2009 Victorian bushfires by facilitating strong relationships and clear responses to identified community needs.’


6. Is it hard to argue for this type of funding in Cabinet? Not only is it not hard, it is sought by a Premier who has an enormous empathy with the people who have suffered these disasters and, of course, I have a particular interest (as Minister and Leader of the Nationals). Amongst all the members of the Cabinet, there is very great awareness of the impact of all this upon people. Building structures and putting up bricks and mortar is critically important, but none of that will function unless you have people who are living in their communities and being able to resume their lives in a manner that best suits their respective needs. But investments like the $19 million that will see a new conference centre established in Marysville...this is not only a jobs creator, but a sign of faith. There is a nexus, a definite nexus, between the bricks and mortar and the people, but there are instances where you do need to focus on each of them respectively, and we do.

7. What are the biggest challenges to supporting community recovery – what gets in the way of solid, long-term responses? I think one of the challenges in supporting community recovery is the move between anticipating the event (‘the water is coming’), dealing with the event (‘the water is in town’), and then the recovery process which is, by definition, often longer. So we had these campaign floods, from September 2010 to March 2011, affecting 104 communities across 28 local government areas… and the barriers to recovery can be various. They can be: lack of appropriate coordination between local government and the services upon which it depends to deliver the recovery plan; (and) the fact that our volunteers and community leaders get exhausted, in the smaller communities in particular. We have been careful to ensure there is no disconnect between the different levels of the structures, the not-for-profit organisations, local government and then state government partners. Sometimes though, with the best will in the world, when people are under immense pressure, we’ve had to come and fill gaps; (but) you need to make sure you are respectful of local leadership and the input of local groups in the way that you do it.



8. What do you see as the role of community sector organisations in an emergency and how do you ensure the State has the systems in place so they can hit the ground running? The role of these community sector organisations is absolutely vital; for the very main part, they are volunteer in nature and it means therefore that we have a great reliance upon them to be able to deliver in those times of need. That again is where the planning is so important through local government and state government…with the sorts of things that community sector organisations are called upon to do: they’re very able, let me make that clear, but the more you practise it, and do it on an integrated basis, the better for all.

9. Some community sector organisations in Victoria were out of pocket after providing support to those affected by the bushfires and floods. It’s important that everybody has a clear understanding of what are the arrangements that are to occur. There should be enough guidelines in agreements with local or state governments to ensure they are expending in a manner that enables them to recoup.

10. Could the Government look at Queensland’s Memoranda of Understanding (MOA) model to ensure that doesn’t happen again? In the end, this is an issue about providing services for people who are in desperate need, so we are always amenable to looking at better ways to streamline these issues to achieve that result.


11. While jobs are important, lots of other issues – such as school retention rates, lack of support for mental health and drug and alcohol issues, and poor transport – hinder the ability of rural communities, some of which are already amongst the disadvantaged in the state, to fully recover from emergencies. Where do you see the priorities here? We have programs that are dedicated toward dealing with things such as (declining) school retention rates, and similarly with the other propositions you have raised. But they are really around a more central point: it’s the question not only of the sustainability of country and regional communities as we have them now, but rather growing them, and we’ve got a strong program to achieve that, through the Regional Growth Fund4…and we are engaging with different industry sectors with a view to growing employment to deal with the very issues you’re speaking of. For example, we recently had a forum for 25-30 of the major food producers who are based in regional Victoria….their significance is that the manufacturing sector employs 11.3 per cent of the Victorian regional workforce; while food processing makes up 30 per cent of that workforce, or 28,000 people. It has enormous promise for us and we’re involved in a huge number of those sorts of programs. One of the realities of government is that you must have your economy running well to look after those who are disadvantaged. The harsh reality is it’s very difficult to do it the other way around; you can’t invest funds in those who are disadvantaged to the extent where you don’t have an economy to accommodate it. But if you can get the economy running well and can manage the state’s budget properly, it offers all the more opportunity to those who are in need, and we’re very conscious of both those elements of our responsibility.

4. The State Government established the Regional Growth Fund to invest $1 billion over the next eight years to ‘support major strategic infrastructure and community-led local initiatives that improve both the competitiveness and livability of regional and rural Victoria, creating more jobs and better career opportunities’.



12. From your rural and regional experience, have you observed that some communities recover better than others because of those sorts of issues? They do, but that comes I think for reasons which are not unusual. We are putting a lot of work into what we term ‘building community resilience’ and enabling people to better withstand the pressures associated with these (emergency) events when they happen and then recover from them. But I think the smaller the community, the harder it is for them as a community to recover; it’s more difficult in Elmore than it is in Bendigo, more difficult in Maffra than in Sale; harder, dare I say, in Penshurst than it is in Warrnambool. As a Government, we have a great awareness of these things and we look to support these communities accordingly.

13. What do you see as the better ways of increasing resilience? It’s very much around the leadership in the community, and this is where getting support systems around your community leaders and community organisations is so vitally important. So, for example, in the floods, we’ve funded the employment of flood recovery officers across those 24 municipalities to be on the ground, doing all the work that needs to be done to better enable those communities to collectively recover from these disasters. That’s just one example. At the other end of the scale, we introduced a system where Councils could receive up to 50 per cent of eligible National Disaster Relief Recovery Arrangements (NDRRA) in advance. These are things that flow through directly to communities because councils are not having to draw down on their cash reserves.


14. Finally, what books are on your bedside table and how much time do you get to read? I read something non-work related every night without fail. I must say it doesn’t have much science about it: I just finished another Frederick Forsyth: Avenger. It was a very good book, about the tunnel rats in Vietnam. My brother was a Vietnam vet, so it had a particular attraction. I’m sorry to say there are none of the classics (by my bedside). I prefer in my reading for someone to have been shot by the bottom of the first page and then the rest of the story to be dedicated to the solving of the crime. I emphasise it doesn’t bear any relationship to any of my activities during the day!





A life with trauma Ruth Wraith has been in more than her fair share of disasters. The senior Melbourne child psychotherapist is one of Australia’s leading disaster mental health experts and has provided support in the aftermath of a range of local and international disasters, from the Queen Street and Port Arthur massacres and Bali terrorist attacks to the Aceh tsunami. Remarkably, her career has been bookended by two local disasters: the 1983 Ash Wednesday bushfires, which launched the development of lifelong expertise in disaster work, and the devastating 2009 Victorian Bushfires, which brought her out of intended retirement. In that time, she has seen enormous shifts in the way the impact of psychosocial trauma has been accepted, identified and treated – particularly for children and young people, her specialist area as the long-term Head of the Department of Child Psychotherapy at Melbourne’s Royal Children’s Hospital. But, 30 years on, there is, she says, still much we don’t know, and mistakes continue to be made, often with the best of intentions. Our responses are better for most children, but still some deeply vulnerable children miss out – not least refugee and asylum-seeking children, those with complex and damaging life experiences, and children from fractured Aboriginal communities, who she rates collectively as among those currently greatest in need in Australia. We are also, she says, yet to properly address the needs of the ‘little ones’, infants and pre-schoolers. On the service front, over the years, Ruth has seen heroic and generous responses from people and organisations in every setting. But that too can take a toll – on workers, but also on those we seek to help, when we rush to give support in a ‘state of arousal’, desperate to heal but not necessarily thinking clearly about the current needs of the affected people and the best time for help.

“Although we’ve come a long way in the last 30 years caring for children in these circumstances, we are still in very early stages of developing a more fulsome understanding of the impact of trauma on children, and therefore management and treatment is still in the process of evolution,” she said. “So it is important that all organisations that are working with children who have been impacted by demanding and challenging experiences remain alert and open to the emerging knowledge base.” Ash Wednesday and beyond Ruth was a child psychotherapist at the Royal Children’s Hospital in Melbourne in February 1983 when a team from the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioural Sciences was seconded to Mount Macedon in the days following Ash Wednesday. At that point, she says, there was very little understanding at a theoretical and clinical level about the impact of disasters on children; she could find just a few articles about the 1972 Buffalo Creek flood in the United States, when a coal slurry dam burst and flooded a dozen hamlets, killing 125, a few more about the impact of war on children through the London Blitz, a few early theoretical papers and some clinical case reports. “We virtually flew by the seats of our pants,” she said. Colleagues at the time included Ric Pawsey, Neil Coventry and Rob Gordon, who have also all gone on to become experts in disaster response and the impacts of trauma. “At that stage there wasn’t a conceptualising by government or the community of psychosocial impact and recovery. Impact was seen around concrete structures: roads, bridges, houses and buildings, and recovery was deemed to have been completed when those were re-instituted.”




But, she says, the intervening years have brought significant change, including: • A re-conceptualization of recovery to include the ‘human’ dimension. • Recognition of the psychosocial impact on individuals, families, groups and communities, although there is no formally accepted definition. (Ruth’s rough guide is: the interaction of the psychological and social domains of a person’s life, thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and cognitive and emotional aspects, and how these interact within and between close relationships, social groups, networks and communities.) • Wider understanding that not all people, families and communities will recover within the same timeframes or take similar pathways – and that this may create tensions within and between families, communities, organisations. • Widespread adoption of the ‘prevention, preparedness, response and recovery’ framework, which now guides planning and service delivery. • Recognition of the importance of information for affected people to determine their choices in an emergency, to enhance their ability to respond after the event and to manage their recovery. She commends Red Cross for its publications and the Australian Child and Adolescent Trauma, Loss and Grief Network (ACATLGN) for its website, along with the Department of Human Services, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, and many other services. • Greater awareness of the importance of mental health and less stigma about accessing support and treatment. • Enormous interest in understanding the impact of untoward events on child mental health, general wellbeing and development: be it from the death of a parent in childhood, accidents, medical interventions, violence, war, civil unrest, refugee experiences, child abuse, domestic violence and neglect, through to natural disasters. • Neuro-scientific development, including neuro-biolology and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) which shows the parts of the brain that become active under certain emotional circumstances. • Increasing integration of advancing knowledge in all areas of child development. • Identification of post traumatic stress syndrome as an entity in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 3rd Edition. The DSM IV manual still does not provide separate dedicated diagnostic understandings of the impact of trauma on children and adolescents but this is expected in DSM V.

“So now we have a range of recovery principles which we didn’t have then, including supporting communities to manage their own recovery and understanding there are optimal stages for particular supports and interventions; that information about anything and everything is essential; that community processes are inclusive for all sections of the community; and that, with the appropriate supports, communities do recover.” Recovery: myths and realities “Back in 1983 there were a few entrenched myths. One about communities that had suffered a disaster was: ‘they’ll never get over it.’ Another, about individuals, including children, was ‘they’ll get over it if they don’t talk about it’. “We know now that recovery does occur, but communities, individuals and families will differ in the way they recover and in the journey they take. Back then there was the sense that, to be deemed recovered, you got back to where you were before; now it is understood that these events change communities, organisations and people. There will be a ‘new normal’. And this is where information and support are important, so people can work out how they can reconnect back to a full and meaningful life. It is also now more acceptable for people to talk about struggling, whereas in past times they might have been perceived as weak, a failure, cowardly. We’ve moved to a more realistic accepting of reactions that once might have been denigrated or moralised about.” Kids – ‘they’ll soon forget all about it!’ Just three years after Ash Wednesday, Ruth and her colleague Rob Gordon wrote a series of seminal articles on human responses in disasters1. In the second article2, they listed ‘The myths of human response in disaster’. They were: 1. People in danger panic. 2. In the face of personal danger, people only think of themselves. 3. Too much information is likely to scare people into behaving erratically. 4. People do not react with severe emotional disturbance when there is no effect from the disaster on them. 5. Children are not affected by disasters. 6. A community affected by disaster will fall apart or never recover. 7. Workers in the disaster situation are not affected by the disaster.

1. Wraith R & Gordon R, ‘Human responses to natural disasters’, Macedon Digest, 1986-87; v.1, no.1-4. 2. Ibid, also available at



The view in Myth 5, they explained, was based on the fact that children may show initial obvious signs of trauma, but then appear to cope, without apparent changes in behaviour. “Children also ‘postpone’ their responses until they get the ‘all clear’,” the article noted. “Failing to see the connection between the disaster and later problems leads parents and teachers to misunderstand the behaviour and treat it in ways that make matters worse.” Almost 30 years on, Ruth says we have learnt as a community that these events may cause harm to children and that we need to do something about it. However, the myths still operate in subtle ways. “You see them played out in different ways, in different disasters, different circumstances. For example, there is recognition of what is needed to assist traumatised Aboriginal children, but when you get down to the nitty gritty of the programs that are required, knowledge isn’t necessarily translated. One of my theories is that observing fear and hurt in children often takes adults back to some of their own painful childhood experiences, so being presented with a vulnerable, damaged child, or thinking about them, can be very confronting and challenging.” The myth recognises the resilience of children, but not, she says, that a disaster may also simultaneously bring vulnerabilities that can be beyond the natural healing processes and which therefore require extra supports, such as planned mental health services that recognise the complexity of impact, pre-existing, and post-impact dynamic interactions for the child and around the child. Victoria saw the need for that support in the 2009 Victorian Bushfires for deeply impacted children and young people, and provided “a lot of response activities and a lot of sensitivity, with funding to support children’s services.” But the depth and type of clinical management needs still to be expanded and developed in emergency responses, in Victoria and beyond. “There is good professional training and a range of programs for managing symptoms and reactions, but we still have a way to go to understand what we call the internal psychological issues: of attachment and individuation, trust, sense of self, moral development, understanding of the external world and how these influence development, mental health and recovery in the context of trauma. An important area for traumatised children is the impact on the development of cognitive functioning and the interaction


with academic progression. Another direction for the future is to continue a sophisticated integration of the knowledge bases that come from the developmental theories, attachment theory, neurobiology, and child and adolescent psychodynamic theories. We’re moving forward in each of those areas separately, but integration is needed.” Another gap is in the ages of children who get support. Schools, Ruth says, are the obvious and appropriate places to tap into children after an emergency. But what of those who aren’t yet in school? “It is slowly becoming more widely accepted that infants and pre-school children can experience emotional and psychological damage from overwhelming, challenging events where the attachment relationship and core nurturing is interfered with, as well as from the experience itself – noise, pain etc.” In Victoria, she says, we are seeing good work done, but care for this age group has yet to become more formalised in treatment and in various modalities of response to disasters. How workers cope with stress and arousal? Another myth identified in 1986 was the tendency to separate people in a disaster situation into two groups: those affected (the ‘victims’) and those not affected (the relief workers). But the article noted that anybody entering the disaster setting becomes involved in emotionally powerful experiences, placing demands that, if not recognised and dealt with, can result in health problems in workers or their families, some of which may take some time to show up. It also highlighted another hazard of neglecting the effect on workers: the effect on performance, especially those with planning or administrative responsibilities, who may have their judgment distorted by their own feelings and reactions. “This may result in neglecting some needs, giving inappropriate assistance or creating more problems by misunderstanding the requirements of the situation.” The issue of misdirected help arose in the 2009 Victorian Bushfires, with the outpouring of concern and generosity across Australia. In some cases, unwittingly, the desire to help unfortunately caused problems – not least in the donation of truckloads of unsuitable goods that ended up causing storage and logistical hassles for stretched community services.




Services themselves, Ruth says, may not realise they are also caught in what is known as ‘high arousal’: the urgent desire to stem pain and distress. It often means that individuals, organisations and their staff don’t stop to calmly make an analysis of impact; to evaluate need; identify, engage and deploy resources efficiently and effectively and to develop a business plan – to take stock as they generally would when considering work of a similar magnitude or complexity. “It’s part of the fight and flight instinct,” Ruth says. “If you go back to those days after Black Saturday, all of Melbourne was highly aroused: the whole place was absolutely revved up wanting to help. All leaders and organisations need to be mindful that arousal is a very natural state in an emergency, but that they must factor that in to their planning, to anticipate that they may not be thinking as clearly as they should, may not be making the best decisions. You can’t stop the arousal but you can monitor and manage it in the best interests of the people we wish to assist.” Ruth agrees it can be daunting to be the one in an organisation to ask the sensible questions when everyone else wants to rush into action: to query what skill sets are needed or what happens to the everyday clients and services. Limited experience and organisational or political pressures can exacerbate the problem. That, she says, is where leadership comes in: to encourage and enable those questions, plus, crucially, to have a clear and honest view of whether theirs is the best organisation to be doing the particular piece of work. Recognition of the risks of arousal should be, she recommends, written into disaster plans for all organisations to give guidance for the early stage after a disaster when demands and emotions are most high. “We all need to reflect on our experience and core competencies, and not just assume that, because we work with children and/or families in one way or other, that the knowledge and skills are directly applicable in a disaster or in this particular disaster.” Preparing for wellbeing in the next disaster With the expectation of more frequent and intense natural disasters in Victoria, Ruth has one word of advice for community sector organisations wanting to directly translate the experiences and lessons from one disaster to another. “Don’t. Because no two disasters or communities are the same.” So how do community sector organisations apply what they have learnt? The key for those working in

psychosocial trauma is to establish core principles and practices in relation to their service and expertise, and be “informed by experience but not hemmed in by it”. Some general principles are: • Plan and work to ensure a sense of safety for the client group as much as is possible: regardless of age and circumstances, everyone needs a sense of safety in relation to the external world and their inner world, in knowing and understanding what is going on, and of being respected and valued. • All disaster survivors need a sense of security, to be able to trust, whether it’s other people, authority, agencies, plans etc. For children, it’s particularly important to be able to trust within a relationship that is tuned into them, in which they feel safe and looked out for. • Respect the independence and resilience of people, however challenged they may be as a result of their experiences. Avoid creating a pattern of dependency while simultaneously recognising vulnerability and providing support when and where needed. • Service providers need to be resourced and committed to the long haul, as needed. They should stay with a ‘community’ until there is no need for them anymore, rather than shut down services and withdraw according to a predetermined timeline. • Listen, really listen, to people. They will then guide you to the direction your service needs to follow in this set of circumstances. • Ensure you and your service are up to date with sector specific expertise and training, and relevant disaster and trauma expertise, training and plans. “You can’t translate what you did in the 2009 Bushfires to the plane that crashes onto the Tullamarine freeway, you can’t even automatically translate from one fire to another. What you can do is develop a set of principles to evaluate and reference plans and actions against, to tease out issues, identify roles and responsibilities and understand the processes of recovery.” “It is important to stop, assess, think, triage, prioritise, plan – and then act. You don’t just pull out the card that says ‘DISASTER’ and press the ‘go’ button.”






an embedded rural agency story

How do community sector organisations respond to disaster? Jill Miller, Chief Executive Officer of Grampians Community Health, shows the way in her organisation’s response to the 2006 Grampians bushfires, in this article which originally was published in Health Issues. January 2006 – exceptionally hot and blustery – New Year’s Eve was still 35 degrees Celsius at 3am and a wildfire was raging. It started on farmland from lightning; it was decisive, fast, knew where it wanted to go and got there. Within hours many houses were gone; properties consumed; wild animals and domestic stock affected. Then, as fast as it started, it ceased. A mild wind change and it turned back on itself. This day was aggregated to be 146 – a scale consisting of wind force, temperature, humidity etc; a record high for a wildfire day – the Country Fire Authority (CFA) codes red at 50. The February 7 2009 fires were off the scale – over 300. Work for Grampians Community Health (GCH) staff commenced around 8am on 1 January 2006 – New Year’s morning. There were families without homes and stock dead everywhere. Amazingly, no one lost their life. As a general agency with counselling, housing, family violence, aged care, carer services, youth counsellors, community development, early intervention services and more, we became involved on many fronts. On Australia Day – just three weeks after – a second fire started, independent of the first. This was to last for many days and, unlike the first fire, it sped fast but changed direction at whim. The first night it took out 95 per cent of our farm. We were not alone though – it was close to the first fire and some people whose land burnt in the first were caught again in the second. This time we lost two lives – people trying to get to their relatives to assist, thinking they knew the road so well. But all is so dramatically different in the smoke and haze of a fire. Huge tracts of land, both forest and farm, were consumed. The fire factored at 145, still at that stage a near-record high.

Now, as a result of the two fires, GCH has 450 new clients. People affected by the first fire and then retraumatised by the second; all on different paths to recovery and some not even able to take the first step. Eighteen GCH staff were inside the fire line themselves. The range of tasks taken on by GCH included the following: • To cope with our support and recovery role we re-invented ‘case management’ – a role we play already for much of our service delivery – for all individuals and families involved. This enabled us to walk alongside people through the different phases of their recovery journey. When staff were assigned as ‘case managers’, we were aware it meant a commitment of at least 12 to 18 months. Some people did not need that immediately but took up that option months down the track. Remaining open and flexible as an agency worked well. • Housing and then re-housing, as well as providing long-term resources such as fridges and other household items etc, for those who had lost everything. • Services for fire victims, such as new computers and operating systems, power, rent advances, bond money. • Early basic needs met, sourcing funds, ensuring fire victims had equitable access to ‘gifts’ and vouchers. • Fire photographic exhibitions, displays, events, under-writing publications; for example, the book Beyond the Smoke could not have been possible without an advance of funds to the publisher. GCH advanced the funds – story-telling is an important part of recovery. • Health checks for the fire-affected community.




• Adult counselling, creative arts therapy for the kids. • Training and support in recovery and self-care to the Department of Primary Industries and local government workers. • Working with groups like the Tourist Association in implementing their meeting processes to defuse emotional issues/faction fights and to plan ‘where to next’. • Many public talks to help people understand that where they were at was part of a normal process after trauma and to defuse blame and anger. • Volunteer training and management to get early written information out to help people understand the psychological issues they were facing and that their feelings –good and bad, physical and mental – were a normal part of the recovery process. • Development of information in community understandable terminology. • Developing and distributing information at all the known spikes (times of one, three, six, 12 months after a trauma). Publications such as Moving On contain information for six months after the fires, including poems, humour, anger management tips, nutrition and relaxation information. • Supporting and debriefing the inter-agency staff. • Social events, from community afternoon teas to Cut Outs (celebration named after the drinks that follow the end of shearing). Up to 250 people came to each of these events. • Looking after GCH staff – they needed to be in for the long haul. To ensure everyone could get back on their feet and help clients, we provided debriefing, defusing, services such as meals delivered to staff for up to two weeks after the fires (e.g, on our farm we had no electricity for ten days and no phone service for two weeks), counselling, mental health first aid breaks (e.g, extra long weekends for all staff), a buddy system for those inside the fire line (staff were matched to ensure that those inside the fire line had other needs met, like phone battery recharges,

linen, fresh water, chocolate, help to get organised), workload reductions and much more. All our 120 staff were involved in this recovery work.

HOW DID WE WORK OUT WHAT TO DO? We have been involved in many disasters before, including mine accidents, fires, arson, road trauma, drowning accidents (five people drowned together), but this was bigger, much bigger, and so many more people were affected, including friends and relatives and people we knew from other organisations. Because GCH tries to understand every other organisation’s roles, we did not replicate; but as a generalist organisation we filled in many gaps. GCH had over 50 staff trained in recovery and trauma before these fires. We started early… before being called in officially. While the fires were still burning, we carried out an audit of housing rental stock, and planned and set up our recovery area. We paid regular visits to the central control area – the Municipal Emergency Recovery Centre (MERC) – to pick up the most needy who were registering there. We did not wait for referrals at that point because we knew the staff at MERC well and were able to move easily around their high impact job. They were exceedingly busy and referrals would have taken time they did not have. We assigned case management early using all GCH staff. We set up our own internal incident room for new case files, food for staff, information exchange and debriefing, supported by an administrative worker and base crew. To ensure the recovery centres were staffed we called in partners from other organisations like Wimmera Uniting Care and retired GCH staff. We remained proactive and visited houses and businesses inside or adjacent to the fire zone with basic early information to help people make sense of the mental and physical feelings they were experiencing. We followed up leads from community people where they thought we should visit others in the community and held daily staff debriefing meetings to ensure all leads were followed up or referred on where appropriate.



We ensured staff understood that a fire of this magnitude was complex; a whole-of-life event for the clients and that staff needed to do work beyond their own area. We tried to understand the strain on staff – especially those who were affected directly by the fire – and ensured that our normal agency work was still happening, such as our work with clients with complex home care needs, young people or people accessing palliative care services. Although we had local material already developed for early trauma intervention we had to develop three-, sixand 12-month recovery material.

WHAT WORKED? Several factors played a role in making our response effective. An amount of general funding ($40,000) from the Department of Human Services (DHS) received early allowed us to create options, such as extending the employment of a part-time asthma educator to full-time to assist people affected by smoke. Also of help was the fact that we are a generalist organisation with strong partnerships, both inter- and intra-sectorial that have over 50 staff trained in recovery work. Keeping the recovery leadership with senior management also facilitated the work, as the person in this role was able to re-arrange their duties and had the much needed decision-making capacity, including over budgetary issues.

“We have been involved in many disasters before, including mine accidents, fires, arson, road trauma, drowning accidents; but this was bigger, much bigger, and so many more people were affected, including friends and relatives and people we knew from other organisations.


KEY OUTCOMES/LEARNING FOR SUSTAINABILITY Having had time to reflect on this event, and having given many talks and listened to many others, we feel that to achieve successful, sustained recovery support we can recommend the following: • It is better to use existing staff with knowledge of the community, such as community development officers, counsellors and case managers in key roles rather than employ new staff. • Use new staff or retired staff to then back-fill their roles; put these extra staff on early. Some of the new staff (community development workers and counsellors) started working with us nine months after the fires. They then had to learn their new role and so they were not effective until around the anniversary of the fires at 12 months! • It is important not to underestimate the level of stress all staff are under, especially if they are affected by the fire as well; implement techniques to defuse, debrief, support and create opportunities for relief from the incident. • Acknowledge that the event is a complex, whole-oflife incident for fire victims and does not fit into a neat box; everyone is on a different recovery path; it is a long process and all staff will play a number of roles over an extended period of time.

IMPACT ON AN ORGANISATION The impacts of an event of this magnitude in an organisation are many and varied, but again we can highlight a few key impacts in our agency. As an agency we went on the same trajectory as an individual after trauma. GCH has taken time to recover as well. We look back and wonder at the quantity of work we managed – our normal client work did not suffer and was seen as an equal priority to the recovery work and the fire clients!



There were some tasks that we did not manage well. For example, during the first six months we did not submit our normal timely reports and some data to funding bodies; we missed opportunities to obtain some new funding from trust funds. This impacted on potential critical development that could have benefited our clients in the future. If there is ever an enquiry from a funding source about our agency, it will inevitably relate to the first two quarters of 2006. The fire recovery work had a cost for GCH that we estimate at being around $80,000, despite the extra funding; even more if lost funding opportunities are considered. Some losses also offered unexpected opportunities. For example, we lost some experienced staff to cities (safer places from fire) but this gave us an opportunity for restructure. Overall, this event strengthened us and made us appreciate what we do; our skills, who we are, and how well we work together. To some extent we are still working with those fires. The re-traumatisation of the fire community occurred on 7 February 2009. Then, there is still the challenge of living a 12-year drought; we are at 4 per cent of the total water supply for the Wimmera Mallee.

IS OUR WORK SUSTAINABLE? Unsure. If this is to become more frequent, higher levels of resourcing would be needed. As a community we used every available local resource – volunteers, Department of Primary Industries, Department of Sustainability and Environment, Country Fire Association (CFA), Red Cross, miners and even prisoners from the local prison. Whether these events are the first bite of climate change or just a range of very intense unusual weather events, the effect is the same. At present, Victorian Government policy is changing, from allowing extra resources for recovery to embedding recovery processes into everyday agency work in response to the possible


ongoing nature of more extreme events. If that is the case, then an increase in recurrent funds, especially for generalist counsellors – an essential part of community resilience building and support – is absolutely necessary. Even without fires or drought, these counsellors are increasingly in demand. Economic downturns and other life impacts go on, despite extreme incidents. I often used to wonder why older people in Victoria still talked about the ’39 fires. It seemed so long ago. But I understand now because that is where we are all at. We will relive the memories, the trauma, the recovery work and the rebuilding for a long time to come. Although it is three years on, if a bunch of local people get together, the talk will at some stage inevitably return to the January 2006 fires.

Jill Miller is the CEO of Grampians Community Health. This article is a reprint of the article that appeared in the Winter 2009 edition of Health Issues.



We talk about the critical need to support children and young people who experience disaster or adversity, but what does a good response look like? Like the Festival for Healthy Living, according to a range of vulnerable and diverse communities across Victoria who sing the praises of its unique arts, health and education focus. Harry Gelber admits the Festival for Healthy Living is hard to describe, and that its name may no longer do it justice. What’s not so hard is to track its impact – the communities it’s helped to galvanise, energise and comfort; whether small rural towns struggling through drought for survival, disadvantaged Melbourne suburbs, the towns that bore the brunt of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires, or remote communities steeped in grief. “We aren’t a crisis response or a clinical intervention,” says Harry, the Manager of Community Development at the Royal Children’s Hospital’s Integrated Mental Health Program, which is home to the Festival organisation. “We’re a community development intervention, based around the principles of partnership development, engaging respectfully in communities, promoting local ownership, and working on the promotion side of the mental health agenda.” It began as a small project in 1998 to celebrate Mental Health Week. Now, driven by a team of just four parttime staff with expertise in the arts, education and mental health, the Festival for Healthy Living has involved more than 10,000 students and 8000 parents and carers from nearly 120 schools across Victoria. It’s set up to be replicable in any community that is experiencing disadvantage, crisis and adversity, but still to be flexible and tailor-made for each one. What that looks like on the ground is an intensive and long-term program commitment where visual and performing arts meet education and health, using everything from stilt-walking to making films to identify, explore and address mental health and wellbeing issues facing children and their families in particular communities (see ‘How it works’ on p23). “It’s the partnership between teachers, artists and health professionals, with schools, families and communities that underpins the Festival,” Harry says. “It works particularly as a bridge between parents, schools and community agencies, which can often be disconnected from one another.”


Kate Tucker, Outdoor Education Teacher, Mobile Librarian, stilt walker CARTWHEELS – the Festival for Healthy Living in the Cathedral Schools Cluster (2010-11) – communities affected by the 2009 Victorian Bushfires Schools: Alexandra Primary, Alexandra Secondary College, Buxton Primary, Eildon Primary, St Mary’s Primary, Taggerty Primary, Thornton Primary Agencies: Berry Street – Connect for Kids, Royal Children’s Hospital Integrated Mental Health Program – Festival for Healthy Living, Alexandra Community Health and Family Care Funding: Berry Street, Helen McPherson Trust, Dara Foundation, Foundation for Regional and Rural Renewal (FRRR) and Murrindindi Shire Council I was involved from the outset in 2010 with the Festival for Healthy Living, following a phone call from John Lane, its Artistic Coordinator, who had heard I walked on stilts. His enthusiasm, genuine concern for our community and his sense of possibility was truly infectious. Meeting Lea Trafford, the Professional Development Coordinator, cemented my decision. Their collective skill is the strong rapport they developed with artists, teachers and mental health workers and their ability to implement this model of teaching and learning. There were a few people who wondered whether it would be possible to make it happen, to get all the schools working together, to keep 450 kids involved in a long-term program after what the communities had been through. But there were enough supporters to make a start and, once the Festival got going, its momentum continued to grow. They were actually the first really to ask how the ‘helpers’ were going. Everyone of course had gone into help mode after the fires – the Shire staff, the community organisations, the teachers – everyone wanted to do what they could, but they were all also trying to deal with their own issues, the trauma of losing family and friends. The Festival team could see we all needed nurturing.



At the time, I ran the Murrindindi Shire’s mobile library. We got it back on the road about 11 days after the fires. We filled the van full of fresh fruit and people would just sit on the floor, talking or flicking through books, getting some respite. One lady said: ‘When we saw the mobile library and rubbish truck come into town, we knew it would be okay again.’ Months later, you’d be reading a story to junior school students and suddenly one would say, ‘Do you think my mum’s okay?’ I’d reassure them, but they’d say, ‘How do you know?’ In the end, you’d say, ‘Let’s ring Mum now and see what she’s doing...’ They had lost that sense of safety and security. The Festival partnered with Berry Street Alexandra, whose local program ‘Connect for Kids’ delivers community development and youth programs. It was a great example of a partnership between organisations and local schools and it brought this amazing energy into town for two years. The relationships the kids built with the artists – 27 in all – and the mental health workers were extraordinary. And it was so good for the teachers to be part of something they didn’t have to run, so the kids could see them forming a human pyramid or juggling, see them in a different light. The final combined event in October 2011 was magnificent and made the kids feel so supported and celebrated. It’s helped to build an incredible sense of pride, of just how resilient people are. We had got together for lots of things since the fires but this was something totally about joy. There was one boy, who had been very fire affected. He kept insisting for months that he wasn’t going to be part of the final show. In the end he came and he stood on stage, performed in all of the acts, and sang his heart out. I heard his teacher go up to him at the end as the audience was cheering and say: ‘You are the bravest kid I have ever met. Don’t you ever forget this night. You are amazing.’ It was a very powerful experience.

Joe Mazzarella, Principal, Pyramid Hill College, now on the Victorian Steering Committee for the Festival for Healthy Living Life is a treasure box: you just need to find the keys: Pyramid Hill Festival for Healthy Living (2005-06) – rural community struggling with long-term drought Schools: Pyramid Hill College and St. Patricks Primary School Agencies: Royal Children’s Hospital Integrated Mental Health Program – Festival for Healthy Living, Bendigo Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), Northern District Community Health, School Focused Youth Service, Loddon Shire Council, Pyramid Hill Police


Funding: School Focused Youth Service, Gandel Charitable Trust, Catholic Education Office Bendigo, Sandhurst Diocese, Department of Education (Loddon Campaspe Mallee Region) When we got involved with the Festival, there was a real sense of a rural community on a slide in morale. The biggest issue was a very prolonged drought, but we had also one major local business close down and another flagging the same fate. The impact of adversity was very evident on the students: they weren’t always a happy lot. We were working with local support groups and professionals to build students’ self esteem and resilience, but it was a godsend when the Festival arrived. We had students, for example, who had not experienced a great deal of success in learning, who turned out to be able to juggle, walk on stilts, play instruments, sing, and do all sorts of different things. Just the looks on their faces was sufficient to tell you that, for the first time in a long time, they were happy and felt good about the level of success they were achieving. When it came to performing, their confidence skyrocketed. That was pretty much infectious, the whole school felt happier. The parents got into it too. The artists would run sessions for them at night in juggling, balancing and acting and a good number put their hands up to be involved. And yes, the impact’s been sustained. It’s been the catalyst for the school and support groups that we work with to explore different ways of building on students’ wellbeing and mental health – including working with a professional sculptor to create a piece that stands at the front of the school and a music/video project with former Redgum musician Hugh McDonald. Towns like ours are at the mercy of weather. Last year, the drought broke and we were looking forward to the best crop ever, and then the rains came and virtually flattened everything. Being flooded was devastating, although – unlike the drought which just ground everyone down over time – it actually brought people together and new leaders emerged. Events like that can be community building but they don’t negate what is happening in the long term. The community is shrinking. We had a huge fall in enrolments at the end of 2007, when we went from 150 students to less than 100, as whole families moved out of the district. It’s difficult for us to keep kids in the area after they finish school. At the same time, a number of low income families have moved from Melbourne and interstate because we have cheap housing – a lot of farm houses are vacant. That can be good but the kids often need a lot of support, academically and socially.



We are always trying to explore new avenues for building resilience and a sense of belonging amongst peers and to the school, but the Festival was unique. It stands out because it’s big, and it brings a huge injection of energy and funding and long-term engagement. When you’ve got resources like that, it has an impact right across the school and community, and one that lasts.

Sandra Inserra, Counselling Services Team Leader, Anglicare Victoria, Werribee The Wyndham Festival for Healthy Living (2009-10) – Neighbourhood Renewal community in Melbourne’s western suburbs. Schools: Glen Orden Primary School, Woodville Primary School, Warringa Park School Agencies: Anglicare Victoria, Department of Human Services – Neighbourhood Renewal, Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, ISIS Primary Care, School Focused Youth Service, Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture, Royal Children’s Hospital Integrated Mental Health Program – Festival for Healthy Living The Wyndham project was set up as part of the region’s Neighbourhood Renewal initiative, integrating mental health promotion into the core curriculum for over 350 students at three schools, including Warringa Park, a special school for children with intellectual and physical disabilities. Our Youth Counselling Team was invited to become involved because we provide a generalist Youth Counselling service for young people aged 10-25 years in Wyndham. We were identified as a service that could assist this project by providing a psycho-educational role, exploring positive messages of mental health with the students. Our Youth Counselling program, funded by Wyndham City Council, has run for many years, providing direct counselling support for our vulnerable youth. Most young people present with a variety of complex issues; such as family breakdown, suicidal thoughts, depression, sexual assault, drug and alcohol, and childhood trauma. Our counsellors always carry full direct counselling caseloads so it can become challenging for us to run groups without the additional funding needed to develop well researched projects. The Festival gave us access to lots of young people who may not otherwise have known about our service; to be part of a program that was well researched and evidence based; and to develop strong working relationships with other local health providers and school leadership/wellbeing representatives.


Under the Festival model, classroom activities are presented by community artists and health professionals, who work together in teams to align health, arts and education goals. Our role was to make sure that the messages on mental health were articulated to children and young people in ways that were fun but still educational and informative. It was a fantastic program – I don’t know any other like it. When you use the arts to put across your messages you have such a variety of different tools to use; it’s so versatile and all young people relate to the arts in some way. For the general youth participants, the program is about early intervention – utilising the arts as a visual tool to send positive mental health messages and educate young people. It encourages them to communicate with parents, teachers, friends, counsellors and it fosters resilience and confidence building. But the program is also useful to identify those young people with tertiary needs, those who would benefit from direct mental health support. These young people developed positive relationships with health professionals over the many months of regular classroom based Festival activities. The Festival made it okay for them to think about getting support and also exploring their new-found interest in the arts. The arts give young people a medium to communicate, especially when it’s challenging to speak about their traumatic experiences. The Festival brought a positive buzz of excitement. It didn’t matter which school the young people came from, they all mixed and knew they were part of something bigger, something special. Their families also got involved. Many students who didn’t normally like going to school were excited to be there, and their parents wanted to be part of that too.

Jill Joslyn, School Focused Youth Service Coordinator, Mildura City Council Robinvale Euston Festival for Healthy Living – Rural community. Schools: Euston Public School (NSW), Robinvale P-12, St Mary’s K-8 Agencies: Royal Children’s Hospital Integrated Mental Health Service – Festival for Healthy Living, Murray Valley Aboriginal Cooperative, Robinvale District Health Service, Mildura Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service (CAMHS), Mallee Family Care, School Focused Youth Service (Mildura Rural City Council), Local Indigenous Network, Victoria Police Funding: Department of Health




Robinvale is a horticultural community nearly 100 kilometres due east of Mildura. Over the years it’s seen a huge influx of new arrivals to Australia; there’s something like 50 different nationalities, including a large Indigenous population, Pacific Islanders, and refugees from the Middle East and Horn of Africa – all in a town of 3,000 people. It’s quite a mix.

they’ve never seen them do before and they want to see it – whether it’s singing, or drama, or they’ve made a film, or a beautiful piece of art. Often these kids might be disengaged, not really shining at anything in particular at school, and suddenly this gorgeous young person is brimming with vitality and showing their parents: ‘Look what I can do!’

One of the big challenges was that a number of young Indigenous people committed suicide in the town in recent years, so it’s been quite a horrendous journey for the community. There’s deep grieving, but also quite a lot of racism, a lot of antagonism between various groups.

It opens up a whole lot of doors. You can’t do well at school if you’re sad, overtired and underfed. But if you’re really mentally healthy and you’ve had a good night’s sleep, you can learn anything.

We got together in the Loddon Mallee Primary Care Partnerships (PCP) program with Robinvale District Health to work out what we could do to help this community heal their wounds and grow together, rather than more apart. We got the funding and launched the Festival at our usual end-of-year community celebration in November 2010. We had been through a ten year drought, but we’d never ever seen so much rain as we got that night (although it turned out to be nothing compared to the flooding that came in last February!). Everyone was dripping wet but we had the best night. That was the start of the community capacity building. The best thing about the program as it unfolds week after week, month after month is that people who would normally not have anything to do with each other suddenly come together to work side by side, for the good of the community and actually have fun – like the Koorie artists and Anglo health workers and teachers from school on our steering committee meetings. I love watching as teachers become excited by the work they are involved in with the artists and students and it’s the fun aspect that breaks down barriers and helps people build relationships. It’s also so wonderful to see artists holding a whole classroom in the palms of their hands; totally engaged kids, awestruck and entranced by what they’re doing; and we’ve got parents in drumming workshops and at barbecues at night, some of them coming into the school for the first time. They’re coming because their kids are doing something

HOW IT WORKS The Festival for Healthy Living (FHL) is a mental health promotion strategy, auspiced by the Royal Children’s Hospital Integrated Mental Health Program, which builds capacity in schools and communities for mental health promotion through the arts. The Festival team works for up to three years with the local participants (schools, artists and community health agencies) in professional development sessions for staff, classroom activities for students, and outreach activities for parents and the wider community. Students develop solution-focused performance pieces, artwork, multimedia and written work facilitated by their teachers in partnership with professional performing and visual artists, exploring everyday issues that affect our mental health in a spirit of problem-solving, creativity, optimism and fun. At the core of FHL work are the following key principles: • wellbeing of children, youth and families • forging of cross sectoral partnerships • delivery of flexible, sustainable and ‘place based’ models and responding to local initiatives • capacity building through creativity in thinking, practice and outcomes There are three major phases involved in initiating and implementing a Festival for Healthy Living program over a three year period: • Phase 1 – engagement • Phase 2 – implementation

Often these kids might be disengaged, used to not shining at anything in particular, and suddenly this gorgeous young person is brimming with vitality and showing their parents: ‘Look what I can do!’

• Phase 3 – consolidation Within this extended timeframe, the five major stages towards staging an FHL are: 1. Establishing a regional steering committee 2. Establishing local infrastructure 3. Working towards performance/presentation 4. Production: performances and exhibitions 5. Post-production and planning for sustainability






the Spotlight

In a disaster, the media is usually right behind the police and emergency crews – interviewing and filming survivors when they may be at their most vulnerable. Journalist and academic Dr Denis Muller explores the role and impact of the media in a disaster and how community sector organisations may help. In the aftermath of a disaster like the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria on 7 February 2009, a complex and ethically fraught interaction occurs between the survivors of the disaster and the media covering it. What happens in this interaction, and the consequences for survivors and media practitioners, was the subject of a two-part research project by the Centre for Advanced Journalism at the University of Melbourne. The results were released in August in a book called Black Saturday: In the Media Spotlight. Part one of the research was conducted among media personnel who had covered the fires. They were asked about the ethical issues that they confronted, and how they resolved them. Part two of the research was conducted among survivors. They were asked about the effect on them of interacting with the media and of being exposed through the media. Part two of the research revealed a considerable amount about the needs of survivors, both in the immediate aftermath and in the days and weeks following. While the role of the community sector did not come up in the course of the research, the findings contain cues about how the community sector might contribute to better outcomes for survivors. Most of these cues can be found in the findings about how media and survivor interests can be better balanced. The need for this balancing tends to increase as time goes by. In the immediate aftermath of the bushfires – within about the first 48 hours or so – survivors were capable of making instinctual decisions about whether to engage with the media. Although they were on an extreme adrenalin ‘high’ and incapable of making what would be considered a fully informed decision concerning consent to a media approach, they nonetheless were capable of making decisions that, on the whole, they later said they did not regret.

Even so, the issue of consent in disaster reporting remains a complex and vexed one. Some survivors could not even recall giving interviews or what they said. Some had not made the connection until later between giving an interview and seeing themselves in the media. On the other hand, some survivors had specific reasons for wanting to speak to the media. Some wanted to call for help. Some wanted to vent their anger. Many wanted to tell their family and friends they had survived. In these ways they found the media useful. They also recognised that they were part of a big and legitimate news story. However, after about 48 hours or so, the realisation of the enormity of the tragedy set in. Survivors began to grieve. At this point, they were much less willing to speak to the media. Their need of the media had passed. They no longer wished to speak of what had happened, but what was happening now and what was going to happen in the future. They were generally more fragile and more vulnerable. They also tended to regard these follow-up media stories as lacking the legitimacy that they had attached to the initial breaking news. Instead of seeing the media as helpful and as getting out the big story of what had happened, they were now more inclined to see the media as exploitative. In particular, stories about people’s reactions and feelings, where the focus was on pathos, were seen in this light. It was made worse when survivors experienced attempts by the media to get them to cry for the camera. These attitudes were common to people who had remained in the fire ground and to those at relief centres. The difference was, after the first day or two, not many media people were getting into the fire ground so the survivors there were largely spared the full impact of the media onslaught. By contrast, large numbers of media personnel congregated around relief centres. Here survivors were glad of the opportunities afforded by the police and other emergency services to shield them from the media, while giving them options to engage with the media if they wished.




They appreciated the shutting out of the media from community briefings and other meetings of survivors. They also appreciated the setting up of media-free zones at relief centres. They were grateful for what they saw as savvy advice from the police media liaison people. The police told them that if they wanted something done, then getting a story in the media about it was a good way of moving things along. However, another aspect of the management of the media by the police caused anger and hurt among survivors. This arose from the fact that after the fires had gone through and the scenes had been sealed off, the media were given supervised access by the police before the survivors themselves had had a chance to go back and see what had happened. Survivors expressed the strongly held view that they should have been allowed to see first what had happened to their homes and communities, rather than see it second-hand through the media. At the same time, it was clear from the research among the media personnel in part one that the police had been under enormous pressure from the media to provide access. Arranging supervised access for survivors is no doubt a complex and labour-intensive business for police and emergency services, at a time when they have many other demands on their time. It might be in assisting with this that there is a role for the community sector in future disasters, not as replacements for the police but as the providers of additional support for survivors returning to see what is left. Overall, survivors said that media exposure had done them more good than harm. There had been few negative consequences and many positive ones: the vast outpouring of assistance from the public by way of donations; the opportunity to tell families and friends they were alive; the opportunity to call for help; the ability to use the media to exert pressure on the authorities to fix problems. Of particular importance was the emergence of a concept we have called survivor autonomy.

Consider this: An overwhelming force has taken away many of those things that added up to the survivor’s position in the world. With them have gone much of the survivors’ independence and self-sufficiency. They are suddenly dependent on others for the necessities of life. What a survivor has left is his or her personal autonomy, his or her status as an individual human being, and the core dignity that that entails. This dignity includes the right to decide whether or not to speak, whom to speak with, and what to speak about. The survivors who participated in this research exercised this right and – as has been shown – exercised it in ways that, on the whole, did them more good than harm. They were able to assess those in the media who recognised survivor autonomy and who showed by their conduct that they respected it. To those media people, survivors tended to say yes; to others they tended to say no. In the context of a disaster, these are high-stakes decisions. A survivor who decides to speak to the media is taking that media person on trust. If that trust is betrayed, the risk of harm is real. Consequently, for media practitioners this is a matter of major ethical significance. Recognition of, and respect for, survivor autonomy is a core ethical duty. It acknowledges the survivor’s essential human dignity. It minimises the risk of harm and may even do a little bit of good.

Dr Denis Muller is a Visiting Fellow in the Centre for Public Policy and at the Centre for Applied Philosophy and Public Ethics at the University of Melbourne. He was the Chief Investigator for this research, which was conducted for the Centre for Advanced Journalism at the University of Melbourne. He also teaches ethics to journalism students at Swinburne University. Black Saturday: In the media spotlight is available from Melbourne University Bookshop.





Resilience: finding the right ingredients The day before I was due to pick up two dozen cupcakes from the bakery in Lorne, there was a message on my phone asking what kind of passionfruit icing I wanted. The butter cream swirly type or the hard shiny fondant? I took a note of the name of the caller and phoned back. The swirly type please. The next day 24 little works of art were stacked up into three boxes waiting for me. As the baker’s daughter and I carried them to my car, I said: “You’re Cleo, right?” “Yes,” she replied. “I’m Penny.” “Yes, I knew you, but I didn’t know your name. Hi.” “Hi.” I now know 23 people in Lorne by name to say ‘hello’. I know some people well enough to stop and chat. Two and a half years ago I would not have known any of them. Nor would I have appreciated the significance of this. But I now know how my connections with people in my coastal town could save my life. Although that is not my reason for buying cupcakes. In February 2011 my husband and I returned to Australia after ten years of living in Canada. Our former holiday home in Lorne is now our permanent residence. Like an episode of SeaChange we are shaping a new life in a new community – pulling out weeds with Lorne Care, dragging our labrador to dog obedience class, taking our turn on the roster for the historical society. Two years earlier, on Black Saturday, we were also in Lorne. At that time we were holidaymakers swapping minus 25 degree Celsius temperatures in Canada for the blistering dry, windy, 40-plus heat that swept Victoria that day. Many of the long-term residents were probably thinking of the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires. That was when a spark from a saw mill in Deans Marsh started a fire that was burning houses in Lorne within 15 minutes. On Black Saturday 2009 a cool change

breezed into Lorne by the late afternoon. Relief was coupled with sickening guilt, knowing that this time other communities had copped it instead. Two days later, on my way back to Canada, I got the request from the Victorian Department of Health to put together a review of the evidence and set of recommendations that would help Victoria rebuild the fire-affected communities around Kinglake.1 So for the next two months, while the temperature in Calgary gradually rose to a balmy minus 15, I immersed myself in the international evidence on best ways to help rebuild the social fabric of communities that have been burnt to a cinder. I learned a lot. First up though, I believe we have to pause and admire the policy makers in the Victorian Department of Health. When politicians would have been breathing down their necks, they had the steady nerve to think, ‘Hang on, there must be right ways and wrong ways of going about community rebuilding and betterment. Let’s find out.’ Sure enough, for a start, there was evidence on what not to do. For years ‘psychological debriefing’ had been used after disaster events until some canny research showed that it actually did more harm than good.2,3 It was also evident that many traditional practices in aiding community recovery were largely unevaluated. Much money had been thrown at disaster recovery, but not enough people were figuring out what strategies worked best. On top of that it was clear that the Victorian Heath Department’s interest in seeking the evidence to foster a strong, community-led recovery was not wacky or out of order at all. It was in keeping with what the Australasian Journal of Disaster Management had been calling for since 1997.4 But the cries were largely ignored, perhaps, since the call for involving communities in all aspects of decision making had been repeated everywhere. Even as late as the Canberra bushfires in 2003, some government and 1. Hawe P, Community recovery after the February 2009 bushfires: A rapid review, An evidence check review brokered by the Sax Institute for the Public Health Branch, Victorian Government, Department of Health, 2009, available at http:// 2. Raphael B, Wilson JP Eds, Psychological Debriefing: Theory, Practice and Evidence, New York, Cambridge University Press, 2000. 3. Forbes D, Creamer M, Phelps A, Bryant R, McFarlane A, Devilly G, et al, ‘Australian guidelines for the treatment of adults with acute stress disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder’, Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 2007, vol. 41, no. 8, pp. 637-48. 4. Paton D, ‘Disaster and trauma studies: developing an Australasian perspective’. Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies, 1997, vol. 1.




community agencies were unaware or forgetful that playing a personal role in community reconstruction is an important part of community healing.5

discuss my fire plan with my new neighbours, friends and acquaintances. I will be wiser for it and by knowing each other’s plans, we can back each other up.

But the highlight for me – and you must forgive me for being an academic, but I do experience ‘highlights’ just from reading stuff – was the work by the Disaster Research Centre at the University of Delaware. They showed how people’s social capital explained the wellknown differential impact of disasters.6 People who live alone get left under buildings. People with friends and relatives know that they are missing and where to look. People on their own don’t seek help about symptoms experienced in the aftermath. People with family get nagged into it. People evacuate early when they feel obliged to act in ways that will reduce threat to others. People on their own wait.

It follows from this that any initiatives that build connections between people in fire vulnerable areas could be thought of as mediators of disaster impact and accorded appropriate respect. Arts projects. Sports projects. Environment projects. The people you meet when you band together to fight off development of the foreshore. Knowing names and making connections should be viewed as a success indicator for such ventures – alongside the sculptures erected, events held and community gardens planted.

Even warning messages broadcast on public radio or television are mediated through social networks. Communication processing involves hearing a message, understanding, believing, personalising and then responding. What processes all of this for us is other people. We hear and interpret through them. This explains why the newly arrived, less connected, ‘tree change’ residents in the Tasmania bushfires in 2006 had lower preparedness and worse outcomes.7 They are like the extra nine or ten thousand people who can swell the population of Lorne in January, outnumbering the permanent residents ten to one. They are potential babes in the wood, when it comes to appreciating the gravity of a warning message. So that’s why I am thinking about who I know in Lorne this summer. The Country Fire Authority wants people across the state to do fire plans, as residents or as possible travellers on high fire danger days. I want to 5. Camilleri P, Healy C, Macdonald E, Nicholls S, Sykes J, Winkworth G, & Woodward M, Recovering from the 2003 Canberra Bushfires. A Work in Progress, Report prepared for Emergency Management Australia, Australian Catholic University, 2007. 6. Dynes RR, ‘Social capital: Dealing with community emergencies’, Homeland Security Affairs, 2006, vol. 2, no. 2, pp. 1-26. 7. Prior T & Paton D, ‘Understanding the context: The value of community engagement in bushfire risk communication and education: Observations following the East Coast Tasmania bushfires of December 2006’, Australasian Journal of Disaster and Trauma Studies, 2008, vol. 2.

Of course I am acutely aware that in an emergency, among my neighbours, there are those who can drive fire trucks, those who can make fire breaks and those who can deal with fallen power lines. I, on the other hand, stand out somewhat lamely as a person who can do a literature review. I can’t see myself being called on too often for that. But we enjoy living here and we are being made welcome. And that, in a place as beautiful as Lorne, is like the icing on the cake.

Professor Penelope Hawe is the founder of the Population Health Intervention Research Centre at the University of Calgary, Canada, where she continues to work part-time, mostly by telecommuting. She is the author of Community recovery after the February 2009 bushfires: A rapid review, an evidence check review brokered by the Sax Institute for the Victorian Department of Health in 2009.




WHEN EMERGENCY IS EVERYDAY The public and government response to the survivors and the communities affected by the 2009 Victorian Bushfires was unprecedented. HomeGround Services’ Heather Holst looks at the lessons in that response for services that support people who are in crisis every day. Many thousands of people were made homeless by the 2009 Victorian Bushfires. Several homelessness services, including HomeGround Services, found themselves responding, alongside a wide range of professionals and volunteers. In contrast to this one-off disaster situation, homelessness services are part of a cluster of services that respond to personal emergencies whenever they happen. This article considers how our ‘day-to-day’ crisis response to homelessness differs from the response to the bushfire disaster. There were several linked components of the response to the 2009 Victorian Bushfires that were integral to its success: 1. UNDERSTANDING NEED: The teams that were quickly assembled and coordinated soon knew who had to be assisted in terms of numbers and locations. It took longer to fully understand needs, but there were concerted efforts to do so. This may seem a simple point, but it differs from day-to-day homelessness services where it is a case of waiting to see who comes on a one-by-one basis through the door seeking assistance. 2. PUBLIC SUPPORT: There was an immense outpouring of sympathy to the victims of this terrifying natural disaster. In contrast to many of the attitudes to ordinary homelessness, there was very little harsh judgment and blame from the general (and voting) public, although there was some criticism about living in fire-prone areas, not insuring property and possible imposture. Not only were politicians also part of this emotional response, but they were put on notice that they were expected to sort out this problem.

The Opening Doors initiative to address homelessness in Victoria has almost completely lacked two of the ingredients of success that distinguised the response to the 2009 Victorian Bushfires: resources and public support. 3. RESOURCES AND REMOVAL OF BARRIERS TO ASSISTANCE: Strongly related to this public sympathy, significant resources were made available through government funding and private donations. Similarly, barriers to the resolution of individual difficulties were removed. As just one example, paperwork requirements to prove eligibility for grants and payments were relaxed. This is very occasionally offered for other homelessness situations, but generally there is a huge amount of work involved in assembling papers and proof of eligibility with people experiencing homelessness who are in no position to have this all neatly filed away at home. 4. COORDINATION: There were very frequent whole-of-government meetings at a high officer level to coordinate efforts across departments. The case management response was organised around the person at their location of preference, rather than expecting them to approach a wide range of disconnected services (housing, health, material aid, legal etc) whenever they needed some assistance. 5. ACCOUNTABILITY: Underpinning all this effort was the appointment of a high profile officer to take responsibility for the effort and it was known quite early that a Royal Commission would examine every aspect of the causes of and responses to this disaster. This level of accountability is very far from our treatment of homelessness in general. Very occasionally homelessness responses contain these ingredients, such as the recent re-housing effort when The Hub, one of the last big inner city rooming houses, closed in early 2011. As the local homelessness service, HomeGround worked with local government and the owners to understand the nature and extent of the issue; the media took a keen interest in the story and very little adverse public comment occurred; government quickly made brokerage and worker funding available in response to a request from the homelessness agency; the relevant agencies and



local government formed a local area response group to coordinate the effort; and senior departmental officers and the Minister’s office kept abreast of the re-housing progress. It is notable that the Government would not expedite social housing access, so some people have had to wait a long time in temporary situations for permanent re-housing, but other agencies responded very favourably. The homelessness sector has been moving towards greater understanding of need, coordination and accountability with the Opening Doors reforms, launched in 2006, which re-orient the system around clients rather than expecting people to find their own way or to accept limited assistance from single services. There are now 17 catchments within which all funded homelessness organisations cooperate as Local Area Service Networks (LASNs) and a statewide 1800 number that operates 24 hours a day for direct access and to accommodate people after-hours. To back this up, funded agencies advertise their available support, housing and brokerage resources to local agencies on an electronic register. Entry point agencies maintain a list of the households requiring assistance, which have been prioritised, based on the time spent waiting for assistance and their fit with the available resource (size, location, demographic). The practice of sending people from one agency to the next to seek assistance was stopped, and replaced by engaging and working with each person until all their housing and support needs are met. Entry points were given the authority to match the most suitable applicant to each resource, rather than referring many people to a single resource and letting the other agency choose the successful applicant at a remove from the people involved. There were several powerful reasons for this reform. The service system had grown and specialised to become a bit of a maze, especially in metropolitan Melbourne, and people reported significant confusion in trying to find the assistance they needed. People were obliged to put together their own package of assistance because the cooperation between agencies was very limited, and few agencies were large and varied enough to offer a complete package of assistance ‘in house’. Clearly it was the most persistent and lucky who were receiving help rather than all those in need. Indeed, the more disadvantaged people were the least likely to be able to persist and tell their story in an appealing manner. However Opening Doors has completely lacked two of the ingredients of success that distinguished the 2009 Victorian Bushfires response: resources and public support. The accountability ingredient has also been at a lower level than necessary, no doubt because of the absence of alert public


interest. In short, it has worked well in some respects and fallen short in others. Not all agencies have come along with the changes by making all their resources available and wholeheartedly participating in the local area service networks. Funding for this reform has been very limited compared to its scale. There has been no extra housing and no extra support funded, so the supply of assistance is still much less than demand. Endorsement of this reform has seemed weak at times and some senior government officers have not engaged strongly. Rather, the investment has been made by the non-government sector, regional officers and a small number of senior government officers who understood the importance of becoming more efficient and improving overall quality. Despite all this, a person who needs homelessnesss assistance can now find help more readily at any hour of the day or night, and only has to approach one service and undertake one assessment in order to access homelessness resources. There is significantly more cooperation between agencies and knowledge of the options, making the referrals easier for people needing assistance. Resources are used more intentionally, with those in greatest need prioritised for most services, as well as some capacity for diversion for first episodes of homelessness. There are reports that people with high needs who were homeless for many years, transient and not engaged, have now received housing and support by being prioritised. We now have the best information we have ever had as a homelessness sector about the extent and nature of need. Consumers are reporting that they understand and support the reforms. There is an evaluation of the reform currently underway, and agencies continue to work on improving responses within the current resourcing constraints, but perhaps a rethink of our day-to-day responses to align them with disaster responses is warranted by the Government. After all, homelessness is a disaster for each individual concerned, regardless of the cause.

Dr Heather Holst is General Manager Client Services of HomeGround Services, one of Melbourne’s largest homelessness, housing and support agencies. See www. for more information.



WHERE PHILANTHROPY FITS IN A DISASTER What’s the role of philanthropy in a disaster? Jo Mason and Alexandra Gartmann discuss how an innovative program launched after the 2009 Victorian Bushfires showed how philanthropy can support emerging or unmet need. Natural disasters, by their nature, invoke an emotional response. In response, charitable institutions, philanthropists, individuals and corporates alike often experience a compulsion to contribute immediately to reconstruction activities. Donors, government agencies and the media place a great deal of pressure on community service providers, local governments and community groups then to ‘rebuild’. In the early phase of the recovery process, volunteer groups in smaller communities are expected to create plans, attend consultations and develop project concepts. Natural disasters can both increase the need and decrease the capacity for strategic thinking and strong action. This emergent recovery landscape can make it difficult for philanthropy to take a strategic role. The political imperative driving government funding during the initial stages of recovery is often limited to support for individuals and is driven by timeframes determined by external deadlines rather than community needs. It does not reflect an essential consideration: the need for communities to address their own personal recovery before engaging in physical and social infrastructure planning.


There is a widely-held misconception that physical construction represents community recovery. The reality is that social cohesion and community wellbeing are far stronger indicators of recovery in communities affected by natural disaster. Inappropriate infrastructure can often undermine the recovery process by causing division and conflict within community groups, upon which are thrust increased and unplanned financial burdens.

IF NOT STRAIGHT AWAY, THEN WHEN? In recent years, the philanthropic sector has played a key role in recovery and reconstruction for major international natural disasters. These include Cyclone Katrina (New Orleans), the Indonesian tsunami, Haiti earthquake, Pakistan floods and the 2009 Victorian Bushfires. As a result, there exists a wealth of information regarding the effective role that philanthropy can play and the strengths it brings to a recovery process. These experiences highlight that a gap exists to support community groups in the medium- to long-term recovery process – a time when the political imperative for government support begins to lessen even though communities are still responsible for implementing projects and responding to emerging social infrastructure needs. The Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR) established a collaborative philanthropic response to the 2009 Victorian Bushfires to support medium- to long-term community recovery. FRRR’s previous experience with disasters such as Cyclone Larry and the 2008 Queensland floods indicated that philanthropy could be strategic and effective in disaster recovery.


Under the Repair-Restore-Renew (RRR) 2009 Collaborative Victorian Bushfires Grants Program, 21 donors contributed $2.1 million, with an additional $2.5 million available for strategic projects through a Regional Donation Account. The RRR program provided a pool of funds to support grants of up to $30,000; it was specifically designed to be easy to access, flexible, responsive, and to meet the needs of not-for-profit community organisations across all affected regions. FRRR’s specific listing in the Tax Act allows it to accept DGR donations and conduct a grants program to not–for-profit groups with no specific tax status. What made this approach unique was the collaborative response of the philanthropic sector, which included advocacy and leveraging and acted as a clearinghouse. Working in partnership with the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority (VBRRA), as well as other active philanthropic organisations such as the William Buckland Foundation and Community Enterprise Foundation (CEF), FRRR was able to define a strategic role for philanthropy rather than duplicate or replace government responsibilities. Two years on, the lessons learnt from this experience are: 1: Collaboration shapes a more coherent role for philanthropy In working together, with a single point of contact, the sector could advocate on behalf of the community and maintain a politically independent presence.




Collaboration of philanthropic donors and community meant they could be more flexible and responsive, and also allowed communities to see where philanthropy exists within them (volunteering, in-kind) and to recognise its intrinsic value. Being part of community recovery processes through helping others assisted people’s own recovery, providing an opportunity to regain a sense of control and to connect with other community members, often in a new way. In a recovery situation, community groups dealing with mental health issues, volunteer fatigue and other issues can struggle to be proactive. Being part of a wider network ensured a response that was part of the solution, not of the problem. 2: The application and assessment process should be open, flexible and accessible RRR Program applications were accepted directly from the community, as well as through formal community planning processes in state government. This meant FRRR maintained its political independence, which was essential for developing and maintaining relationships with community groups over the mediumto long-term. 3: Regional Donation Account helped to attract donations Establishing a FRRR Victorian Bushfire Regional Donation Account provided a legitimate charitable mechanism for supporting community groups directly, whereas the DGR status of their fundraising appeal or trust may have blocked them. It also created a service for community groups which were managing their own largescale infrastructure projects with an alternative fundraising or financial structure to that offered by Council or a charitable institution.

5: Resourcing is crucial A collaborative response to a natural disaster needs adequate resourcing. Grants to support project management allowed the bushfire response to be co-ordinated and more strategic. 6: Assistance must be adaptable There are many stages in a mediumto long- term recovery process. Any programmatic response needs to adapt to the changing environment. Communities recover at different speeds and experience a range of different issues. Through recognising the necessity for reflection and learning, philanthropy can support emerging or unmet need that had not been identified or recognised through government mechanisms. The capacity for philanthropic funding to be applied to projects considered politically sensitive or outside of traditional funding models allows the community to innovate and learn new skills. 7: Acute volunteers suffer from fatigue Often community members can’t withdraw from a project or committee within a recovery situation because there is no-one to take their place. Acute Volunteer Fatigue is not consistent with traditional definitions of volunteering, but is representative of the long-term impact of the disasters like the bushfires on the mental health and wellbeing of community groups and individuals, when they face several years of reconstruction and recovery ahead of them. 8: Mental ill-health impedes recovery Mental health is a significant issue affecting medium- to long-term recovery. Whilst traditional mental health services are the realm of government, philanthropy can play an effective role in supporting complementary or allied health approaches.

RECOVERY TAKES TIME The most significant message from community groups about offering recovery support was: wait until the community is ready. Consider the following example. Replacement of weatherboard community halls with larger brick structures sounds good at face value. However, small volunteer-based management committees can struggle to meet the additional maintenance and running costs, particularly if the disaster has made fundraising harder. Genuine community engagement may also reveal that the population is likely to age and will require different sorts of social activities than can be accommodated by the building. These issues are often overlooked when artificial timeframes are placed on a planning process. Recovery planning, whilst necessary, needs to be driven by the community, not by funding requirements or by political or media pressure. Literature now shows that the best post-disaster recovery occurs when adequate preparation is done before the disaster: thinking through longer term vision, goals and strategies so the right measures can be taken when challenges like a disaster arrive. That is, that ‘emergency response’ should be part of a continuous improvement cycle rather than sporadic and ad-hoc.

Jo Mason is the Natural Disaster Recovery Manager of the Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR). Alexandra Gartmann is FRRR Chief Executive Officer. The Foundation for Rural and Regional Renewal (FRRR) ( was established in 2000 through partnerships with the private sector, philanthropy and governments. Based in Bendigo, it is the only national organisation offering small, discretionary funds to small regional communities in all states and territories.




The Two of


David Hall and Alison Dyson David Hall is the Berry Street Senior Manager, Alexandra and ran the Victorian Bushfire Case Management Service after the 2009 Victorian Bushfires for some of the worst affected areas, including Marysville. His partner Alison Dyson is Berry Street Emergency Relief and Volunteer Coordinator.


avid: On February 9, 2009, I was outside our house and saw a plume of smoke go up in the near distance, looking like an atomic bomb. I said to Alison: ‘There’s an absolute disaster happening, I hope it’s not Marysville.’ Shortly after that the power went off. We rigged up portable generators, and then gradually news started to come in about the intensity of the disaster that was occurring.

On the Sunday we were up early and headed into Alexandra where the high school and leisure centre were being established as evacuation points. There was already about 500 people there – with their dogs, budgies, chooks, horses and sheep. They had nothing; not blankets, not food, just the clothes they stood in. I was doing trauma counselling and starting to think about how a little community sector agency such as ours, with six mostly part-time staff, would manage.

lison: On the Monday we both went into work and the calls were starting to come in. We began a stocktake of what we had from our food share program. I think the worst part was the huge numbers of people who were homeless, all camped out together, in shock, saying: ‘It’s all gone’, or ‘I thought I was prepared’. It was the sheer number of those in need. Then there were the people who had suffered trauma elsewhere, even as far back as the 1983 Ash Wednesday fires, and it had brought it all back and they started to come to us needing help too. Meanwhile, the fire was still burning and moving closer to our place all the time, so we were on two hour shifts through




the night, putting out burning embers and protecting the house. On the Tuesday I went in to work, but David stayed home because everywhere was covered in smoke, and fire was 300 metres from us. At that stage a friend of David’s came over and from then on he kept an eye on the house so we could go to work. It was just as well because a full loaded semi of donated goods arrived – at 9pm! We went to the pub and got about a dozen men out to help unload all the stuff. There was everything you could imagine: prams and pushers, equipment, clothes, towels, bedding. Unfortunately a lot of it was broken or dirty; that was disheartening and meant we had to pack it all up again a couple of days later and get it to the dump.


avid: Gradually we started to get some order to things. We had a small refrigerated vehicle which we lent to the Rotary Club. They were taking food out to volunteers at different points. We were liaising with the Shire. We had other staff come down from Shepparton to do trauma counselling. It was a matter of getting our heads around what resources we had and what more did we need. Because we all knew each other so well within the community information got passed around and the allocation of different roles to different groups fell into place without a lot of external organisation or leadership.

lison: I was pretty much in the office all the time, answering calls, dealing with whatever came through the door. It’s all a bit of a blur, but I think you kind of rise to the task and the adrenalin keeps you going. For about 12 days, we’d be doing 10-12 hour days at work, then go home and watch the fires sweep around our house. I took a call in that first week from the Lord Mayor’s office. They said: ‘We want to give you $30,000.’ It was great to have. It meant we had flexibility and that we could meet immediate need, without having to put in submissions. We could purchase locally to provide support to local businesses which were suffering due to the amount of external material aid arriving in the district.


avid: Everything was already 100 miles per hour, decisions had to be made almost every minute. Then came the announcement of the Victorian Bushfire Case Management Service (VBCMS), and the guarantee from (Premier John) Brumby and (Prime Minister Kevin) Rudd that anyone applying for a case manager would have one within 24 hours. Our initial reaction was, ‘You guys are crazy!’ Both Alison and I spent from eight in the morning to eight at night, seven days a week, trying to do those immediate assessments over the phone: what people needed, where they were living, how long they could stay there, what were their material needs, did they know where to go; making some assessment of their mental state, did they need to see someone immediately or could they wait till we could employ more people.

We were lucky to be working for an organisation such as Berry Street because it had the resources to mobilise and support us. We had six staff to begin with and we went up to 60 within three months, based in Alexandra and Seymour. Of course we had a few that didn’t work out, but, in the main we put together a fantastic team. That was with a lot of support from head office; for example, we immediately developed a training program that assessed needs monthly. Equally, we could tap into Berry Street’s IT (information technology), HR (human resources), and property resources, so we had cars coming in by the semitrailer load, computers, mobile phones, chairs and desks; each time we did recruitment we could have people on the ground running really quickly and I think that set the tone for everybody’s work. They could see we had commitment to provide and promote the absolute best service. When it came to recruiting, the first thing that hit me was we did not have what would commonly be called a ‘welfare client group’ so we shouldn’t look only for social workers with those skills; it was imperative we had a good mix of case managers, people from all backgrounds and skill levels. Their role would be everything from recovering lost war medals and overseas birth certificates to providing food and clothing, sorting finances, insurance, personal problems, trauma issues, fencing, livestock, right through to mobile toilets – so it was a different set of skills and people we were after.




We employed solicitors, farmers, accountants, nurses, marketing and business people. Selecting them was really about trying to assess people who were keen and had a commitment – and certainly lots of people were putting their hands up, wanting to help. Then we looked at their personal skills: will they be able to relate to that broad range of people and will they be able to handle the vicarious trauma? That’s very difficult to assess and, while the majority handled it well, we did have a couple who took on their clients’ trauma. And we certainly put the training in to be sure they were aware they had the capacity to do damage as well as good. Then we set them up to operate in small groups, within which we had buddy systems so people could share different skills. I don’t think I’ve ever been in a program that’s been as well resourced as the Bushfires Case Management. I went to a community development conference in New Orleans, five years after Hurricane Katrina, and there was still so much need compared to here in Victoria. Throughout it all, I wasn’t overwhelmed by what had to be done. I’ve had 13 years in Aboriginal Affairs, five years in disability, eight in child and family services, five in intensive family preservation. I’ve been a farmer and a builder. I’ve lived in rural and city areas, so I feel I have a broad

background and knowledge to make decisions on the run, and make the right ones. I’d never had any actual disaster training but the work I’d done before prepared me to be opportunistic – to see that anything that happened was an opportunity for change. I’d also lived in Alexandra for a long time, so it was a community I knew and they knew me. I had a credibility and a profile, and that made the difference in terms of what we put in place with Bushfire Case Management. lison: A disaster like that probably brought out the best and the worst in people. The level of resources really made a difference in what we could offer, and we tried to give to people on the basis of need not want, although the grants were not always fair. For example, people who lost their major home got assistance, but a lot of people who worked in Marysville and lived in rented accommodation missed out and had to leave the area. Most of the people we were dealing with had never had to speak to a ‘welfare’ person or to give their details to Centrelink, and they were very stressed about it. Some had never had to ask for anything in their lives and found it really difficult. Others were maybe a little too prepared to get help: if we had six pairs of shoes to give away, they’d take six pairs!

Now three years on, about 80 per cent of people have worked out where they’re going, but there are still quite a few struggling with the after-effects, in their financial and mental health. One of things that did help in the early days was that Centrelink and the Department of Human Services and other agencies established local bases within the first week. A problem we face normally in our work is isolation from those services and there they were, down the road, so we could send people down to them and get things sorted quickly. Issues such as family breakdowns, drinking, have grown since the fires. That’s how a lot of men have coped: hard working and hard drinking. But that just puts off the inevitable and that’s what we’re finding now. They’re still not coming forward to seek help, but usually there’s an incident: someone gets caught drink driving, there’s a major health issue, or a mental health crisis… I’d say with more frequency now. A lot of people really missed the contact they got from the case management system so we’ve set up a volunteer program to try to meet that gap. One group of men went out every week in winter to cut and deliver firewood. A lot of people who were affected in the bushfire have joined up as volunteers, saying they want the chance now to give back to the community. Others have found




it’s a really good way to reconnect because the community is different now, many of the friends or connections they had have gone and they want to make them new.


avid: From day one we put a lot of emphasis on managing stress amongst the staff. Once again we had good support from head office. We had a psychologist work with the team once a month for debrief, with the capacity for staff to make contact with them in between. Quite a few availed themselves of it and we really promoted it in a way that there was no stigma attached. It was good to relate it to some of the clients we were seeing, particularly older men who were saying ‘I’m okay, I don’t need help’ yet our staff were identifying issues. We were able to use that reflective practice to say: ‘if you are identifying it out there, how are you seeing it in yourself?’ Despite that, I think I’ve aged an extra couple of years in the past three years. Alison feels it too: it’s a tiredness you can’t describe; you get a good night’s sleep and think you should be on top of it, and you wake up and you’re still tired. The support provided by disaster specialist Rob Gordon in understanding the phases of trauma have provided an insight for both ourselves and our clients. The need for self care is paramount. Unfortunately I have not always taken the advice as I have given it.

My doctor told me earlier this year to take a month off. I took two days but then I went back; I think it’s the sense that I’ve taken it this far so I’m going to see it through to a conclusion. I think for me it was made so much easier by having Alison as both a supportive partner and colleague. I’m sure it was the key to my sanity; without that backup and support, there’s no way I could have kept going at the pace I was going. Also other people we had around us. We put on an administration support person. At least twice a week she’d say: ‘Go past my place on your way home, there’s a casserole in the mailbox for you to pick up.’ I get very teary whenever I think about what that meant to us on those nights. That’s one of the major impacts of the whole thing on me: I still haven’t got over the incredible acts of kindness that people showed.






Picture it: Sicily, 2196. An acutely shy 11 year old child who will grow up to be one of the world’s most esteemed modern philosophers of religion meets a slight-framed child of the same age who has known only poverty. This meeting will develop into a long-term bond of unusual closeness. That acutely shy 11 year old child who will grow up to be one of the world’s most esteemed modern philosophers of religion is the young Tomaso Caravelli and that slight-framed child of the same age who has known only poverty is Filippo Conti. It is a perfect summer morning when Tomaso and Filippo meet each other. They meet in atypical circumstances: via being paired together for a three-legged race that is the length of a halfmarathon. Although an unusually long three-legged race, this particular race is part of an experimental three-legged “buddy program” that is designed to reduce social isolation among marginalised young people by literally binding them together for a month. First developed by the residents of the town of St Olaf in northern Minnesota in 2192, the unique program was then adopted by a cash-strapped Sicilian government as part of its health and wellbeing action plan. Running in a three-legged half-marathon is a challenging activity. Not only is the race distance physically taxing, but it is necessary to wear light ExoArmour to protect oneself from resulting falls, thus making coordinated movement all the more difficult. Yet, despite even these challenges, this particular race turns out to be a very special experience for Tomaso and Filippo. As the two boys awkwardly run together, Filippo’s left leg strapped to Tomaso’s right leg, Tomaso and Filippo feel such an overwhelming affinity with each other that they do not want the race to end. Even after the buddy program finishes a few weeks later, they remain extremely close – for decades, in fact – and they come to be regarded as the program’s greatest success story. Throughout their adolescence and well into their adulthood, there are many times in which Tomaso and Filippo are literally inseparable – so much so, that their ability to travel on foot as a pair comes to rival their ability to travel on foot individually, causing their families various concerns. The worst of these concerns comes to pass one perfect summer morning, not long after Filippo’s 47th birthday, when he is spending a rare weekend away from Tomaso. Filippo is on the last day of a compulsory team-building retreat with his workmates at Sicily’s Lake Pergusa when he decides to go water-skiing. Filippo has water-skiied many times before – but never without being bound to Tomaso. Unaccustomed to water-skiing by himself, his lack of coordination and his desire to impress his colleagues by performing some very ambitious tricks results in a terrible accident involving a passing repulsor-powered speed boat. Although his shocked workmates call an ambulance soon afterwards, there is nothing the attending MediDroids can do: Filippo cannot be resuscitated. Upon hearing of Filippo’s death, Tomaso is so overcome by grief that he takes six months of leave from his university professorship and locks himself away inside the home he shared with Filippo. He refuses all contact with his family, friends and robots. He spends hours watching videos of Filippo on his giant-screened television. He frequently wakes, sweaty and teary, from dreams about Filippo. And, on some afternoons, he simply retires to bed so that he can lie there and think of Filippo and of life-without-Filippo. He comes to believe that his grief is immovable – as unalterable a fact as Filippo’s death – and yet, as his seclusion progresses, he unexpectedly discovers a way to make his life far more liveable.





One evening, having watched many clips of Filippo on his television, Tomaso switches to a random channel – as it turns out, a nature channel. This channel is screening a documentary about a colony of sea otters that was rescued from an oil spill and re-housed in a marine sanctuary. On his screen, Tomaso sees two sleeping sea otters in calm water, floating side by side on their backs and literally holding paws. Despite his dismal evening, one word immediately manifests in Tomaso’s mind: awww. He watches the remainder of the documentary. Afterwards, he switches channels and discovers a Japanese anime series about a young boy who goes on fantastical adventures with some of the most charming creatures imaginable – mischievous cupids, winged kittens, and puppies who sing in barbershop quartets – each a wonderful friend to the boy throughout moments of jeopardy as well as moments of hilarity, and each giving Tomaso, as the expression goes, a “heartwarming” experience. After watching this show, Tomaso changes channels once again, readily finding more of what he is now seeking – encounters with the endearing: an innocent fawn and a baby rabbit who befriend each other and survive the sometimes perilous nature of life in the forest, Tinkerbell-like fairies who give troubled orphans a better life by adopting them and living with them in gingerbread houses, magical giant pandas and their once-sad human companions who now travel the world together in hot air balloons that leave trails of smiley faces across the sky, and so many others. Several hours later, Tomaso eventually looks up from his television and notices that the sun is rising. He realises that not only is it around 5:30 in the morning, but he actually feels some happiness – a happiness that he wants to experience much more of. So, over the remaining few months of his seclusion, Tomaso seeks out further encounters with the endearing. He watches a series of classic US late twentieth century movies that feature a heroic stray dog named Benji. He buys some new items for his home: huggable plush toys of all types and even a set of vintage greeting cards depicting human babies peacefully sleeping on giant pumpkins. He also replaces all of his major appliances with some machines that he once scorned: DelightGoods, a series of talking household appliances that are designed to be both state-of-the-art whitegoods and delightful companions. Soon, Tomaso is the owner of a refrigerator that has an advanced demagnetisation cooling system, not to mention a terrific sense of humour. He even buys the famed PSI-504T washing machine. Due to its psionic sensors, the PSI-504T is extraordinarily empathic. As a result, Tomaso acquires the best washing machine he has ever had – a washer that not only runs laundry cycles in response to his thought commands, but one that is a sensitive and caring confidante. Although he continues to grieve the loss of Filippo, by the time Tomaso’s period of seclusion concludes, he finds that his life is indeed far more liveable. He now resides in a more uplifting home environment, has acquired a host of delightful companions, and every day he is supplied with at least one experience to warm his heart. And now picture it: Sicily, 6 July 2233. It is a perfect summer morning and it is the day that Tomaso is due to return to work after his seclusion. Tomaso drinks the last of his morning coffee. He takes a deep breath and picks up his briefcase. His appliances wish him a good day in a cheery chorus and he smiles.




Opening his front door, Tomaso steps out into the sunlight – and he suddenly encounters a presence so poignantly and so utterly endearing that he instantly knows that it exceeds the bounds of any earthly concept. Tomaso literally comes eye-to-eye with this presence, for it has no fluffy or furry body – in fact, no attributes suggestive of mammalian cuddliness – nor any pastel colours or sparkles, nor any child-like or infantile properties: simply a pair of giant round eyes that are boundlessly affecting. Tomaso finds that he has no need to look in any particular direction to meet these eyes. Like a night traveler who discerns that the moon appears to be following him, it seems to Tomaso that where he is, they are. Later, in one of his many attempts to describe this presence, Tomaso will use the English term “puppy dog eyes” – and yet that phrase will immediately seem feeble and ineffectual, for no puppy – not even one of those guide dog puppies, nor even an anime version of one of those guide dog puppies – could be as endearing. As Tomaso gazes into these eyes, all other external phenomena – his house, the trees on the street, and every other trace of his environment – are subtracted from his awareness. There is only This, and this incommunicable This denies Tomaso the utterance of anything – including “awww” – as a fitting verbalisation. Standing on his front step in silence, Tomaso meets the gaze of This. Suddenly, he wonders: were his recent encounters with the endearing in fact pre-ordained? Did he become more receptive to those instances of the endearing so that he might better appreciate this illimitable, this highest form of the endearing? But no: This seems to be without conceivable comparison. No likeness, no analogy, no metaphor will suffice; not that, not that, and not that either – there is only This. Moreover, it is clear to Tomaso that This can only be God – God, who is now filling him with insights into the life and order of the universe – insights that were previously inaccessible to him – inaccessible because they require a means of entry into other orders of truth – orders of truth that can supply supra-answers to supra-questions – supra-questions such as “How did the universe come into existence?”, “What is the cause of suffering?” and “What are the attributes of God?” – God, whose attributes include that of being infinitely cute – yes: God, who is cuter than any Shetland pony, any Miffy, any Kitty – God, who might be love but, more to the point, is loveable – adorable, even. This God in one instant engenders utter attachment in Tomaso, dissolving all his resistances to such attachment, surpassing all ordinary instances of what we consider irresistible. Perhaps Tomaso finds This is all the more irresistible because he is sorrowfully aware that his encounter with This will be – as is the case with all religious experiences – transient. And – sadder still – as he meets the irresistible gaze of God, Tomaso knows that any re-telling of his encounter would only be met with disbelief. It would be dismissed as the sentimental projection of a man in mourning. In fact, to speak openly of this encounter might well destroy his career, for how could he, Professor Tomaso Caravelli, one of the world’s most esteemed modern philosophers of religion, claim to have come eye-to-eye with an infinitely cute God – a God that he feels moved to praise as “Il Detentore di Onnipotente Coccolosità”, “The Possessor of Almighty Cuteness”? No one will believe him because no one will believe This. This is an excerpt from a piece originally published in The Lifted Brow ( Reprinted with the kind permission of Tom Cho (, whose first book, Look Who’s Morphing, was shortlisted for the 2010 Commonwealth Writers’ Prize for Best First Book (South East Asia and Pacific), 2009 Age Book of the Year (Fiction) and Melbourne Prize Trust’s 2009 Best Writing Award.

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Insight 05: Emergency management  
Insight 05: Emergency management  

Emergency management: trauma and resilience