Friday, February 8, 2019
No one in Victoria on 7 February 2009 will forget the horror of Black Saturday.
The punishing heat from preceding days, the warnings, searing temperatures, ferocious wind and the devastation are literally burned into memory.
173 people died when Victoria burnt catastrophically. Homes and communities were destroyed and lives were shattered.
Ten years on, as we reflect on the impact of Black Saturday and its aftermath, we can remember the role that the Berry Street community and others played in the bushfire recovery and reconstruction process. We also need to remember that 6 carers and 2 staff from Berry Street had their houses destroyed.
At the time, Berry Street had small offices in two rural townships; Alexandra and Seymour and a presence in Yea. These little towns became the focus for the crisis response and then the recovery role played by Berry Street. Over the weekend of Black Saturday, concerned and worried staff spent hours locating carers and children who may have been affected by the fires. Many carers and children were sheltered in evacuation centres. Staff on Monday went to the Whittlesea Centre to support and to begin the debriefing.
Berry Street was one of the first community agencies to support the Kinglake and Marysville communities. Staff were actively involved in communication meetings and debriefing and working with children and their carers. Parents of children were understandably extremely anxious, and time was spent keeping them informed of their child’s circumstance.
Crisis response moved into recovery and reconstruction. Berry Street, alongside other agencies, became part of the Bushfire Case Management Service (BCMS). Almost overnight, 45 additional staff were employed. Staff responded to whatever was needed, whenever and wherever. For five years the BCMS, supported by the rest of Berry Street, contributed to the rebuilding of individual lives and community wellbeing. Recovery is still underway.
The Black Saturday fires were a devastating experience for Victorians, particularly for those so affected and for those involved in the recovery task. We are honoured that Berry Street had the privilege to be part of the recovery process. 10 years on, we recognise that Berry Street played a role to alleviate suffering and bring hope to the task of recovery through acts of individual and collective kindness and skilled care.