Recovering from the Black Saturday Bushfires

In February 2009, the Black Saturday Bushfires devastated large areas north of Melbourne. Burning a total of 255, 417 hectares of land and claiming 173 lives.  Following the fires, the Goulburn Broken Catchment Management Authority (GBCMA) and local Landcare groups worked closely to support the recovery of the community and the natural environment. The local knowledge and networks provided critical understanding about individual land holders and their capacity to engage and participate in external programs.

Immediately after the fire, members of the Upper Goulburn Landcare Network and the Goulburn Broken CMA met to discuss how to best approach fire recovery activities. With the Department of Primary Industries, they were the first to engage with the community to begin the job of assessing the impact and reinstating critical assets. Landholders were asked what support was needed and this understanding of the assistance required was used to apply for funds and the subsequent recovery activities. GBCMA was able to access funding support and these were distributed via Landcare groups.  Funds were used to buy materials, such as tools and equipment for fencing, erosion control and weed management and Landcare groups were able to coordinate volunteers to carry out recovery works.

A series of field days were delivered regarding the important issues for landholders at strategic locations across the burned area. Importantly, these events also included the participation of health counsellors and professionals, and similarly health care professionals operating in the region were able to inform the CMA and Landcare networks of the individuals who were ready to access support. This approach maximised the opportunities for community participation and supported the rapid uptake of works on private land.

More than $6 million was committed to recovery operations and on ground activities in the aftermath of the fires included contacting every affected landholder. Approximately 500 volunteers assisted more than 50 landholders to address immediate issues such as fence recovery, tree planting, woody weed control, erosion control and nesting box installation. The immediate clean-up of affected areas quickly transitioned to a focus on urgent rehabilitation works and controlling the impacts of weeds (over 400 hectares) and feral animals, along with protecting fire sensitive vegetation and critical habitat (over 800 hectares). Fifteen threatened species were protected through activities to translocate or create critical elements of habitat.

The direct support of the existing networks and groups in the region is recognised as being critical for the capacity of the community to respond and the speed of recovery efforts.  People within the affected communities recognised the value of the networks and highlighted that ongoing help or follow up offers of assistance gave them hope and the sense that they were not alone. The environmental recovery was intricately linked with the human recovery and the investment in the community and social networks was fundamental to enabling the community to deal with this catastrophic fire.

This case study relied on information from:

  • Australian Government, Australian Emergency Management Institute, Attorney General’s Department
  • Australian emergency management handbook: Community Recovery – Community Recovery Handbook 2 – Building a disaster resilient Australia, 3rd ed,2011
  • Community Skills, Knowledge And Engagement Bushfire Recovery Program. A report for Goulburn Broken CMA by Roberts Evaluations April 2011