Many Black Saturday survivors keen to go elsewhere
9 May 2009
published by www.theaustralian.news.com.au
USA –Growing reluctance among Black Saturday bushfire survivors to return to their devastated communities could derail rebuilding efforts.
With 98 per cent of about 1600 building insurance claims following the February 7 fires assessed, only 60 people have so far signed up with insurance companies to have their houses rebuilt.
In Nillumbik Shire, where 125 houses were destroyed, only four building permits have been granted and they are for replacement sheds.
A total of 2029 houses were destroyed and 173 people killed on Black Saturday.
Continuing trauma among survivors, fear of future bushfires and the mounting complexity of trying to rebuild under new regulations and planning requirements are being blamed for people deciding not to return.
The head of Victoria’s bushfire reconstruction and recovery authority, Christine Nixon, said experience from previous fires showed about one in five residents did not return.
But she said it was still too early to judge how many residents of devastated communities such as Marysville, Kinglake, Strathewen and Flowerdale would return to rebuild, as many people had said they needed more time to think before making a decision.
Typical of those facing the dilemma of whether to rebuild are Gin and Phil Connor, who lost their Kinglake West home where they had been married, lived for 13 years and were raising three children. They cannot agree on whether to go back.
Mrs Connor is keen to return, arguing their 7ha property perched near the top of the Kinglake Ranges was a place she would always love, despite the memories of Black Saturday, which claimed the lives of a neighbour and the neighbour’s three children.
“I’ll have to carry those memories with me and deal with them no matter where I live,” she said.
Mr Connor is “60-40” in favour of moving elsewhere and the couple have been looking at smaller properties closer to nearby Whittlesea.
He believes the Kinglake West site will hold too many bad memories for his family, who escaped just ahead of the flames on Black Saturday.
And he thinks rebuilding under strict new regulations will be too difficult.
The couple have put off making a final decision while they continue to look at other properties.
“We fell in love with this place the first time we drove down the driveway and saw the house,” Mr Connor said.
“Maybe we’ll drive down someone else’s driveway and fall in love with another house again.”
Federal MP Fran Bailey, whose McEwen electorate covers many of the areas wiped out on Black Saturday, said increasing numbers of people were telling her they would not go back.
“Sometimes the easiest way to move forward for a significant number of people is to simply go elsewhere,” Ms Bailey said.
“It is still too early to say definitely whether some communities will fully recover, but there are very real warning signs and those warning signs mean that more resources have to be put in to help people.”
She blames deepening trauma, particularly among women who had initially put on a strong front to help their families, and “absolutely complex bureaucracy” survivors are having to deal with on a daily basis.
Ms Nixon said that since negotiations between local councils, the state Government and the reconstruction authority, a series of new measures aimed at cutting through red tape for those wanting to rebuild would be announced shortly.
Sample designs of houses that meet new building regulations for bushfire regions will be produced to show people how they might be able to rebuild.