The 2019–20 East Gippsland fires occurred during the most severe fire season ever recorded on the east coast of Australia. They burned from November 2019 to February 2020, damaging over half of the East Gippsland Shire, an area of over 1.16 million hectares. Over 400 dwellings and businesses were lost and four people lost their lives. Recovery had just begun when the COVID-19 pandemic hit. In the same way that the Black Saturday Bushfires have fundamentally changed how bushfires are seen, these events have changed how recovery will be thought about.
Through initial conversations with community members, the Growing the Seeds study found that they wanted a different conversation to the one they had been having. Hence, this report is focused on how different communities and cohorts have experienced their strengths and capabilities since the fires. The study has been shaped around the conversation they wanted to have and how they wanted to have it.
This study was undertaken when COVID-19 restrictions were in place, extending for two weeks after Melbourne’s lockdown ended. As a result, this report represents a snapshot of the recovery process at that time. It identifies overarching themes around capabilities through community members experiences and what they have observed in their home communities and other communities they are working with.
The purpose of this report is to provide a starting point for assessing and understanding community capability practically, and to provide an indicative status of these in East Gippsland and Wellington Shires following the bushfires. It uses a systemic assessment of social, economic and risk contexts to examine community strengths and capabilities, and identify potential future pathways for building these.
The first section of this report has a specific focus on the capabilities involved in community recovery and how they have been experienced by diverse groups within the East Gippsland and Wellington community. This is viewed through a strengths-focused lens. It also provides an initial assessment of the status of the capabilities identified, and the challenges, needs and opportunities that have arisen as part of the recovery experience.
The second section provides a broader picture of the comparative strengths, capabilities and needs identified in an online survey of those impacted by the bushfires in New South Wales and Gippsland through established community panels. The results show which aspects are shared more broadly, those partitioned by direct and indirect experience, and those specific to the East Gippsland community.
The third section provides an economic assessment of two local government areas – East Gippsland and Wellington Shires – to provide a high-level assessment of the economic influences and impacts on the intersection of the COVID-19 pandemic and bushfire recovery.
To read Growing the Seeds, please follow this link to the download portal: https://www.bnhcrc.com.au/publications/biblio/bnh-8000