Bushfires embolden rural communities

By Rob O’Brien
The Victorian bushfires have shown that Australia’s rural communities are in healthy condition, according to a leading specialist in the counselling of victims of the February 7 disaster.

CEO of Australia’s PPC Worldwide operations Ian Shakespeare, which has been providing counselling services and psychological support during the bushfires to, among others, emergency services, councils and small businesses, said the bushfires showed a level of kinship in communites unlike urban parts of Australia.

"One of the interesting questions the bushfires prompt, and of course this is an ongoing dialectic of Australian culture, is whether the strong sense of community – of kinship, cooperation and unity – exhibited by Australians in the bush would have taken place within our urban milieus," he said.

At least 215 people were killed by the bushfires which devastated Victoria’s rural communities. Another 38 people are still missing, feared dead.

Searches are still going on for the remains of victims. The head of a joint taskforce assisting state authorities said last week that they anticipated that new remains would be found.  

Shakespeare, who is also a Member of the Australian Psychological Society, said that rural towns like Kinglake and Marysville had shown a level of character during the tragedy that endorsed mythologies surrunding the Australian bush.

"What we have seen is that communities like Kinglake, Marysville and Churchill are ‘real’ communities, where people did a lot of things together, probably didn’t lock their doors at night, knew what was going on and, generally, kept a caring eye out for each other."

"This goes to the sense of belonging that people feel towards where they live. How many of us living in cities really feel that sense of belonging – a profound, deeply-rooted sense – and camaraderie?" he said.
"It’s a sobering thought. Look how much those communities affected by the fires have stood together and stood firm. I would like to think that they will emerge stronger for it and have a greater appreciation for all aspects of life.

"And it certainly provides some insight into why the bush retains a powerful hold over the Australian psyche and our mythology."

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