Disasters at the 2012 Australian Historical Association Conference

Man on cherry picker dismantling a chimney

The Kinglake Chimney which is now part of the Museum Victoria collection of items from the Black Saturday Bushfires. The Age, 21/6/2009.

Day three of sessions at the Australian Historical Association conference started with disasters.  No, nothing awful befell the historians ensconced at the University of Adelaide. Rather, the subject of the plenary panel in the morning was ‘Disasters in Social and Cultural Perspective:  Impact, Response, Memory’.

Archives, museums and libraries around Australia have done tremendous work to preserve collections and collect memories of the recent disasters.  It was therefore fitting that we heard first from Liza Dale-Hallett of Museum Victoria.  She discussed the Museum’s work with the victims of the Black Saturday fires of 2009 through the Sustainable Futures project.  She argued that the experience of the bushfires was a gendered one. As Mike Jones observed on twitter, Dale-Hallett raised “interesting issues of identity and belonging”.  There have been so many other valuable projects like the Museum Victoria Sustainable Futures project.  As I was listening I was thinking of the ABC Open’s ‘Resilience:  Disaster, Resilience and Recovery‘ project and the State Library of Queensland’s work on the Floodlines project to name but two of the many such projects around Australia. Continue reading

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Mapping Australia’s Natural Disasters: Space and Time

Just outside Tully #TCYasi on Twitpic

Just one image from the Tully area after Cyclone Yasi hit. Source: cycloneupdate on Twitpic.

Yet another natural disaster is unfolding in Queensland with tropical cyclone Yasi crossing the coast of Far North Queensland.  There was not much sleep in our household on Wednesday night as we have family members who live right at the heart of the destructive forces of the cyclone.  I resumed this post at around 1 am Thursday morning.  Blogging while keeping an eye on Twitter and regular media is the best way of dealing with the anxiety.

We had a phone call from our family near Tully at the height of the cyclone just after midnight.  They asked when the eye of the cyclone would hit.  Already they had lost some windows, had to nail a board over the door to stop it from opening and then a tree fell on their house.  They had no electricity and little idea of when it was all going to end.  Their house was swaying in the ferocious winds.

We turned to the Bureau of Meteorology’s radar image and map for the information that they needed.  Maps are indispensable when dealing with a natural disaster.  It is hard to understand the extent of the recent natural disasters in Australia without maps.  Maps record the area or space, that has been affected by the disaster.  Floods in Australia have been mapped since early settlement.  In order to get a better perspective of this summer of disastrous weather conditions in Australia I have been referring to maps of the current situation as well as historical maps. Continue reading