5 February, 2019
This week marks ten years since the 2009 Victorian Bushfires. While it is widely known as ‘Black Saturday’, we know that 374 people died in the heatwaves leading up to it, and there were fires across Victoria beyond that one tragic day of 7 February.
I was in Victoria Police at that time, and I have spoken to many community members and our emergency management personnel since then. It is difficult for many of us to understand the depth of feeling and impact on those who lost loved ones or livelihoods, who tried to help and were overwhelmed, who worked for so long at that time and afterwards to support communities and our colleagues.
But it is an important time to reflect, remember and learn. My thoughts are with those Victorian communities who were impacted at that time ten years ago, and in the years following, and many of course remain impacted today. Recovery is different for everyone, and for some people and communities, it will be ongoing.
Over the coming days and weeks, look after yourselves and each other and know where to find support, should you need it.
As this time, it is also inevitable that the community is asking what has changed since then. The 2009 Victorian Bushfires Royal Commission (VBRC) worked with commitment to recommend steps which needed to be taken to prevent such a tragedy from ever happening again. It demanded and led to significant change within Victoria’s emergency management arrangements.
Apart from 67 recommendations which led to hundreds of actions by diverse government organisations, the overwhelming legacy of the VBRC was embedding a community centered focus in all activities within the emergency services. The Victorian emergency management sector, and the community, has continued to learn and improve, through fires, flood and other emergencies because we have had to, and because this is our reality.
We know that Victoria has and will again experience potentially destructive bushfires in the future. Each summer we brace for the hot and dry period ahead. That is our difficult reality and one that Victorians have again been reminded of with recent and ongoing fires in Timbarra, Hepburn, Walhalla and Grantville. The risk is different across Victoria, but I have every confidence that the Victorian emergency management sector will again pull together in times of need and they will fight for their communities and alongside them.
For stronger and safer community outcomes, we all need to work together. While our focus is on the future we will never forget our past.