Heritage expert says people shouldn’t live in some bushfire-prone areas

Heritage expert says people shouldn’t live in some bushfire-prone areas

26 September 2013

published by www.heraldsun.com.au

Australia — A HERITAGE expert who studies the way catastrophic events are memorialised, says some bushfire-prone areas should not be inhabited.

Deakin University Emeritus Professor William Logan’s research into how Victoria’s bushfires – in particular Ash Wednesday in 1983 and 2009’s Black Saturday – were remembered had reinforced his view that people needed to take more responsibility for themselves.

He said even the government seemed caught up in the “sentimental notion” of living in the bush and has resisted insisting on people shifting their homes out of dangerous bush settings.

“Catastrophic bushfires will happen again,” Professor Logan warned.

“Ultimately people need to take responsibility for themselves and especially for their children and other loved ones; people shouldn’t just wait and see.

“People have been allowed to rebuild in the same location and changes to planning ironically allow them to cut down the trees around their homes, which means the bush they seek has gone.”

A global expert in heritage and memorial issues surrounding places of pain and shame, Professor Logan said bushfire memorials were one instance of Australian heritage where it would be best not to create a memorial in the first place.

“It’s a rather fruitless exercise to put up a bushfire memorial,” Professor Logan said.

“It can help initially in the healing process but over time the process moves on and the memorial takes on a different meaning.

“We have to remember but often that diverts us from the important question of why people are living in bushfire-prone areas in the first place?”

Professor Logan’s three-month research looked at memorials including Cockatoo Kindergarten in McBride St, one of only three heritage sites to have been officially recognised in Victoria as places of bushfire significance.

The building sheltered 300 people at the height of the Ash Wednesday bushfires in 1983.

Professor Logan said he supported Cardinia Shire Council’s plans to make the Cockatoo Kindergarten a working building, rather than be left as a shell.

In May Cardinia Shire Council welcomed a $500,000 Federal Government grant to develop the building as a community centre and place where people could learn about the Ash Wednesday bushfires and fire safety.

Professor Logan said the kindergarten was now a forlorn example of heritage.

“The roof leaked badly and the kindergarten moved. Since then, the building has remained empty and unused,” Professor Logan said. “I don’t think it is useful to leave buildings as empty shells.”

Professor Logan said capturing the memories of people after bushfires would be a more powerful way to remember events.

“Clearly this would need to be done with great sensitivity and under strict ethical guidelines, but people could be invited to tell their stories, capturing that intangible heritage of personal loss,” he said.

“People’s memory of the trauma bushfires cause is remarkably short but the romantic notion of living in the bush survives.”

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