With scientists warning Australia is headed for a major El Nino, more hot spells and a raised bushfire risk are predicted this summer.
Migrants are being encouraged to get educated about the dangers and what to do in an emergency.
Phillippa Carisbrooke reports.
Bushfires are a reality in Australia.
In primary school, children are taught about the dangers of life in the so-called sunburnt country and how to protect themselves.
But many migrants miss out on those important life lessons.
That concerns consultant psychologist Rob Gordon, who has advised governments on how to help people affected by disasters.
“It’s very important that people who come from other cultures really be aware they’ve got to actually really try to understand this phenonomen in a way that’s more intensive than for people who’ve just had it all their lives.”
Over the last 32 years, Dr Gordon has helped countless bushfire survivors and their families.
He says it is significant that the migrants he has worked with have tended to be city dwellers who encountered trouble during trips to the country.
“Very often, the areas I’ve been involved in (that were) affected by bushfires don’t have very high populations of recent immigrants. They’re sort of rural areas or outer-suburban areas, and so it’s not such a factor. But I think visiting is a major problem, particularly if they’re not well aware of danger.”
The Australian Red Cross has released a new four-step, emergency-preparation guide to help people survive disasters, including bushfires.
It advises people to learn the risks they face and connect with members of their communities so they can help each other in case of emergencies.
The Red Cross’s Emergency Services National Preparedness Coordinator, John Richardson, says, for new arrivals, it is a good conversation starter.
“We would certainly encourage them to talk to their own community associations or people from their community who may have lived in Australia for some time. We’re aware that, certainly, the Fire Services will have information translated into other languages.”
The Australian Psychological Society Disaster Reference Group says children living in areas vulnerable to bushfire should be involved in their households’ preparations.
Senior psychologist Susie Burke says it gives them a greater sense of control and eases their fears.
Dr Burke says carers should be mindful that, in an emergency, even children not directly threatened can become anxious listening to media reports and hearing adult conversations.
“We call that a vicarious distress. But it can be quite powerful for children. It can be quite unsettling. And so, in that situation, one of the things that we recommend parents do is to reassure the children that they themselves are safe and that the people they love and care for are safe.”
A schoolgirl’s account of Victoria’s worst bushfire, the Black Saturday bushfires of 2009, illustrates a person does not need to be in the centre of an emergency to be traumatised by it.
This is what she wrote:
“Personally, I was safe. I lived two kilometres from the heart of Traralgon … However, it was terrifying … The sky glowed … Embers showered down over our driveways and gardens. It was apocalyptic … Radios everywhere blurted out round-the-clock updates, and we all listened carefully to the names of tiny towns and held our breath at the news of another victim.”
In all, 173 lives were lost in the Black Saturday bushfires.