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2009 Victorian Bushfires, honouring affected communities a decade on, reflecting on lessons learned

To mark a decade since the catastrophic 2009 Victorian bushfires, Red Cross is encouraging those impacted to look out for each other. The humanitarian organisation will also reflect on its own lessons learned responding to the fires and how they have shaped subsequent disaster management.

Red Cross remembers the 173 people who died in February 2009 and honours the resilience of survivors who have since rebuilt their homes and lives, respecting community wishes to mark the day privately.

Red Cross National Emergency Services Manager, Andrew Coghlan said anniversaries can be a difficult time and community members should look out for each other as new emotions surface.

“Everyone copes differently, but we know that even a decade on some people may still be struggling in their personal recovery, and for others, new emotions may surface during the anniversary, which is very normal.

“For survivors, this is a week to take good care of yourself, and we encourage community members to look after each other. Check in with each other, so you’re not braving it alone and seek help if you need extra support.

“Red Cross volunteers will be at many of the community commemorative events to mark the Victorian Bushfires. They are there for anyone in the community who would like a chat or some support.”

In 2009, Australian Red Cross stood by the community on their long road to recovery, as a key contributor to one of Australia’s most intensive long term recovery programs, helping community members overcome devastating personal loss.

“At the time, Red Cross shifted its focus to helping affected communities in Victoria with more than one thousand Red Cross volunteers and staff from right around Australia involved in the response, relief and recovery efforts.

“We registered thousands of survivors, and took more than 20,000 calls from people looking for families and friends and provided first aid to firefighters and those fleeing the fires.

“Red Cross embarked on one of the longest recovery programs in the organisation’s history, with a strong focus on supporting people impacted by the disaster. A critical way of doing this was through the provision of psychological first aid, which aims to provide calm, self-efficacy, connection and hope.  

“Australians generously donated $380 million in support of those affected. Red Cross and the Victorian Government established the independent Victorian Bushfire Appeal Fund Panel to distribute funds. Every dollar raised and all the interest accrued has gone directly to people and communities affected by the fires, with more than 46,500 payments made to provide housing assistance, bereavement services and fund community recovery initiatives.

“Thousands of volunteers offered care and support for community members 6, 12 and 18 months down the track and beyond. We listened to the community and developed a range of resources to help people of all ages cope and recover, which are still used in emergencies today,” says Andrew Coghlan.

“In a world facing climate change, and factors like increasing social isolation in our communities, the lessons learned from the 2009 Victorian bushfires continue to inform how we deal with more frequent and intense emergencies. We must be prepared and continue listening to communities in our responses as we did back in 2009.

“We know that simple things like looking out for each other, understanding your environment and knowing what’s important to take in an emergency – family photographs for example – all aid recovery.

“During this highly significant anniversary take a moment to acknowledge the courage of those affected by the events of February 2009. Honour their sacrifice by preparing yourself and your family for an experience that hopefully never comes,” Mr Coghlan said.

  • Red Cross is still there to help. We have a range of resources to help people, communities, young people, and to promote self-care at times like this. Visit redcross.org.au and select ‘Help in Emergencies’.
  • For stats, facts, case studies and details on how Red Cross helped in 2009, see our publication, Victorian bushfires remembered.
  • For information on the ten-year anniversary, see the Victorian Government website Victorian Bushfires remembered.
  • Download the Red Cross Get Prepared app at redcross.org.au/getprepared

Media contact:  Angela Lemme – 0437 331 310 or alemme@redcross.org.au