Grief flares with bushfire ads

Grief flares with bushfire ads

24 January 2012

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Australia — A KINGLAKE West woman says the State Government’s bushfire awareness television and radio commercials are a cruel slap in the face for fire victims.

Rebecca Buchanan, who lost two children and a brother in the fires, said the commercials were too graphic for families who lived through the real thing and sent the wrong message.

The ads promote fire plans, which, according to Ms Buchanan, depend on too many variables. She urged people to leave their properties on days of extreme fire risk.

On Black Saturday, Ms Buchanan’s family took refuge at her parents’ property in Kinglake because authorities warned that her own house, which backs on to a national park, was not defendable, she said.

Her parents had an underground water supply and the house was separated from the forest.

Tragically, her parents’ house was engulfed by flames while her home survived the fire.

Her son Mackenzie, 15, daughter Neeve, 9, and brother Danny Clarke, 37, died.

As a result of Ms Buchanan’s campaign to have the ads taken off air, a warning now appears at the beginning of each commercial. The ads will not be broadcast on the Black Saturday anniversary next month.

But Ms Buchanan is not happy with the compromise.

“These ads hurt,” she said.

“They bring back the horrible memories of a really bad day that we didn’t deserve. My mum says they’ve put a soundtrack to the last moments of our family’s life.”

South Morang CFA Captain Lindsay McHugh stressed that fire plans were vital for survival.

“The first message in a fire plan is that on days of high fire risk, leave and leave early,” Mr McHugh said. “I can see the point that (the ads) are distressing, but I can also see a huge amount of apathy in the community about bushfire preparedness since Black Saturday.”

Victorian Fire Services Commissioner Craig Lapsley said the campaign focused on people who had not experienced bushfires.

“However, we recognise the television adverts have distressed some members of the community affected by the Black Saturday bushfires and it is important to respect their experiences,” Mr Lapsley said.

“Every effort has been made to do so, while at the same time making sure that the broader community is made aware of these vitally important fire safety messages.”

Trauma psychologist Dr Rob Gordon supported the campaign and said it provided valuable “sensory preparation” for the event of a fire. “The aim is that people understand what they’re going to avoid if they make a good plan and good decisions and leave early,” Dr Gordon said. “For those who have been through it, these ads are likely to stir emotional memories of real events. One thing we can say is that getting over those traumatic experiences does depend on revisiting the images, sounds, the memories of the sense experiences and the emotions.

“So it would be very helpful, when having seen these ads, if people were able to think how did this compare with my experience, where am I now, three years down the track.”

Dr Gordon urged fire-affected families who did not want to stir up emotions to switch the ads off, and flagged the recovery services still available.

People still suffering from the effects of Black Saturday can phone the Bushfire Community Support Helpline on 1800 050 400.

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