The Black Saturday bush fires in Marysville
Last week, the Regional Australia Institute launched From Disaster to Renewal, a report examining the natural disaster recovery processes in Australia, and how we can do better. As part of the research for this project, the RAI undertook case studies in four towns recovering from natural disasters up to five years down the track: Carisbrook, Cardwell, Emerald and Marysville.
This month, we’re dedicated to telling the stories of these towns hit by fires, cyclones and flooding, and reflecting on what we can learn from their experiences. We’ll also be releasing a policy paper, presenting a series of recommendations to all levels of Government on how we can successfully navigate through the recovery process to make communities even better than they were before.
Marysville and the Black Saturday bushfires
Local Marysville resident Tony Thompson talks about the impact of the bushfires on his community
On 7 February 2009, a series of individual bushfires now known as the Black Saturday Bushfires burned across Victoria. Due to a prolonged and intense heatwave in January, the fires were one of the worst in living memory, destroying over 2000 homes across 78 townships, and causing 173 fatalities. Marysville and its surrounding areas suffered the greatest losses, as two of the largest fires merged and swept through the community.
Almost all the shops, cafes and restaurants in Marysville were lost. Essential services, including the police station, the post office, community centre, medical centre, retirement village and primary school were destroyed. Of the 452 homes, only 34 remained habitable. Before the bushfires, Marysville’s economy was strongly based on its natural attractions and tourism, much of which was destroyed or forced to close. Agriculture, forestry and fishing were also important market drivers, and suffered in the wake of the fires. Marysville suffered extreme population displacement in the wake of the bushfires. Of the 90% of the population that lost their homes, over 50% have not returned to the region.
Enormous efforts via local people, governments at all levels, local and external business and the wider Australian community have been put into rebuilding the town. However, four years on, the recovery of the town is on-going, and the future uncertain. The economic side of recovery remains extremely problematic for the community. Marysville’s former strengths in natural amenity, a unique historic town centre and extensive tourist infrastructure, are still only beginning be restored, where possible. Much of the history is lost, and new strengths will need to be found to fill their place.
Despite these on-going challenges, there remains significant potential for Marysville to re-establish a sustainable economy and chart a positive future. However, the local economy of the future will be much different from the economy of the past. Innovation and an entrepreneurial approach will be critical to helping the town adapt to the ‘new normal’, as key market drivers have temporarily, and in some cases permanently changed. Attracting new job seekers to the region, to counter population displacement, is also a challenge. Although the town may be starting to look back to normal again, there is much to be done before the economy is fully recovered.
The Regional Australia Institute would like to thank the people of Marysville for opening up about their experiences. They have played an important role in developing a better understanding of how Australia can best deal with these horrific events. A full copy of ‘From Disaster to Renewal’ can be downloaded here.