Stories of natural disasters

Courtesy Philip Mitchell/Emergency Management Australia

Courtesy Philip Mitchell/Emergency Management Australia

ACMI Screen Events Coordinator Eugenia Lim shares her experience working with young Black Saturday survivors during a visit to Wallan and Warburton with ACMI’s Digital Storytelling team.  

Australia is a land of plenty, but when it comes to natural disasters, we’ve also had our fair share of bad luck. Of late, the people of Queensland have suffered devastating floods as well as Cyclone Yasi, which at its fiercest grew to speeds of around 300kph – almost the speed of sound. Along our east coast, farmers and entire communities have endured great hardship. The loss of homes, livestock, crops and loved ones has marked an uneasy end to a decade of drought. 

Through times of incomprehensible loss, individual stories of survival emerge. Over the course of 2008-2010, ACMI’s Digital Storytelling team has been lucky enough to work with young people and family members in NSW and Victoria who have survived or been affected by natural disaster.  

On Black Saturday, 7 February 2009, communities in Victoria experienced the worst bushfires in our state’s history. The fires blazed, fuelled by temperatures over 40°C and wind speeds of over 100kph. These furnace-like temperatures combined to create firestorm conditions that swept through communities across Victoria including Kilmore, Bendigo, Gippsland, Horsham, Marysville, Strathewen, Narbethong, Eaglehawk, Kinglake, Flowerdale, Beechworth, Wilsons Promontory, Dandenong Ranges and the Yarra Ranges.  

Black Saturday

The Warburton area on Black Saturday as photographed by local resident Bonnie Lumsden-Keys

I was one of the team who travelled to the townships of Wallan and Warburton to work with young Black Saturday survivors. Packed tightly in a bright blue rental car, elbow to elbow and foot to tripod, we made a series of weekend road trips through fire-ravaged areas. I was dumbstruck at the eerie, ashen landscapes around Marysville, Kinglake and surrounds. A born and bred Victorian with a relatively solid experience of bush landscapes (at least for a city slicker), I had never experienced such stillness and devastating emptiness. There were moments of beauty – bright green eucalypt shoots bursting through blasted black tree trunks – but otherwise, the landscapes and affected townships were hauntingly bleak.  

In Wallan, we were welcomed into the newly-built Wallan CFA Firestation by its Captain Peter Roylance and his dedicated team of CFA volunteers and family members. Each person we spoke to had their own deeply personal accounts of Black Saturday and the weeks since, everyone still in shock about the ferocity of the fires. Amazingly, stories of bravery were common, where individuals would come in to fight the blaze while their own homes were under threat. 

Captain Roylance’s son, Simon Roylance, tells his story in Into the Flames – a moving account of a young volunteer firefighter’s experiences of heading into uncertainty battling the Black Saturday fires. Simon’s story features incredible footage taken on his mobile phone whilst in the midst of fighting the flames. As someone literally in the line of fire, Simon was one of the lucky ones whose story did not end there.  

Simon Roylance

Simon Roylance shares his mobile phone footage of Black Saturday

The tight-knit community of Warburton narrowly escaped the fires, but for many who stayed to protect their homes, it was a harrowing time. We worked with an energetic and wonderful group of young women through the local Yarra Ranges community leadership group whose families had all had to cope with the life and death question – ‘do we stay or go?’ Bonnie Lumsden-Keys is a Warburton resident who recalls a lazy day at the local river cut dramatically short by the news that fire was threatening Mt Donna Buang and her township. Watch Bonnie’s story online.  

The ACMI team also headed to Newcastle to work with young residents who had experienced the 2007 floods. In 2010 the team travelled to Lennox Head in northern NSW after the June tornado.  

'A Trail of Destruction' by Jeremy Somerville

'A Trail of Destruction' by Jeremy Somerville

A heartfelt thanks to all the staff, families, teachers and particularly the young people who we were fortunate enough to work with to create these stories.  

Visit ACMI Generator to watch more stories created through the ‘Living with Disaster’ projects. 

The ‘Living with Disaster’ projects were supported through the Attorney General’s Department and Emergency Management Australia and facilitated and produced by ACMI.

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