19 October 2010
Bushfires: the domestic impact
Fire, Families and Decisions: Exploring the bushfire experience from a domestic perspective by Mae Proudley. Published by VDM Verlag Dr Müller.
Tractor on a fire-affected farm in Greenpatch.
On the morning of 11 January, 2005, the Wangary fire, on the Eyre Peninsula, broke containment lines and caused the most devastation in South Australia since the Ash Wednesday fires of 1983.
Fire, Families and Decisions is an account of how that fire impacted the individuals, couples and families who lived through it.
It was written as a Masters of Applied Science (by research) thesis by Mae Proudley, who graduated last year, and has now been published by VDM Verlag Dr Müller.
The research was funded by a scholarship from the Bushfire Cooperative Research Centre (BCRC) and was carried out in RMIT University's School of Mathematical and Geospatial Sciences.
Ms Proudley lived on a fire-affected farm in Greenpatch on the Eyre Peninsula for two months in the spring of 2006 while she conducted interviews with people who experienced the Wangary fire.
"I felt that examining the bushfire experience from a domestic perspective was long overdue," she said.
"Considering the frequency and severity of fires in the south-eastern region of Australia, there is a disturbing lack of research that focuses on bushfire from the perspective of families.
"One of the major themes that emerged was the tension between volunteer fire-fighting responsibilities and family safety.
"Heavy reliance on volunteer fire-fighters (the majority of whom are men) translates to a burden on their families, in particular women alone with children during a bushfire."
Ms Proudley said many other rich themes surfaced. "The loss of home, the domestic environment, and the wider landscape (whether urban or rural) has profound impacts on the recovery process.
"Essentially, there is little recognition of the emotional attachment that people have to their homes, possessions and domestic pets or livestock and how this influences people's behaviour and response before, during and in the wake of a bushfire.
"Disseminating the findings, to the participants and the wider community, was in the back of my mind throughout this project. I'm glad that there is a document that is publicly available. Hopefully this area of social research will continue to grow.
"While each fire event is unique, as are the experiences of those who survive it, there are findings generated from this study that are relevant beyond the borders of South Australia and extend to natural hazards other than bushfire.
"I think it is very important to understand women's and men's roles – what each gender brings to recovery and community connectedness – within the context of rebuilding" she said.