ACCESS Seminar: A sense of bushfire and flood: exploring shifting perspectives as hazard moves through the landscape

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Bushfires and floods are a living part of the Australian landscape. While much research has explored community preparations, impacts and responses to disasters, there is little understanding of sensory engagements with hazards. In this presentation, we explore interviews with residents who had experienced the 2017 Northern Rivers floods and the 2018 Reedy Swamp Bushfire. These interviews contain rich details of the sounds of water flowing under the house in the dark, and the smell of smoke inter alia that constitute embodied and sensory engagements with floods and bushfires. We focus on these bodily experiences of floods and bushfires to reconsider the mobilities of people, boundaries, and hazard ‘events.’ We firstly consider how elements of the floods and bushfires permeate bodies, homes and neighbourhoods affecting how people navigate and negotiate the hazardscape and how this challenges taken-for-granted mobilities (and immobilites). Secondly, we explore how floods and bushfires challenge boundaries of home and neighbourhoods, and of safe and unsafe places. Lastly we consider the mobility of floods and fires themselves, and contrast the notion of floods and fires as a ‘temporary presence’ that moves through the landscape, with the idea that floods and fires also continue as an absent-presence and a kind of spectre in the landscape long after the flood recedes and the fire is extinguished. We suggest that a focus on bodily senses and experiences of hazards that often overwhelm with their acrid, fetid, dark and immensely turbulent form is generative of a fuller understanding of more-than-human mobilities and relationships.

Presenter biographies

Katharine is a research fellow in the Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires at the University of Wollongong. Her research focuses on the human dimensions of environmental change with a particular focus on community and youth-centred initiatives and adaptations. In 2015, she was awarded the Australian Academy of Science Prize for Innovation, Research and Education (ASPIRE). Katharine has a strong commitment to applied research and many of her research findings have impacted directly on emergency management policy and practice.

Matalena is a lecturer in the PACE program at Macquarie University, Sydney. Her research interests include hazards, disaster risk reduction and communities, community development, and Indigenous geographies. She is particularly interested in collaborative and participatory research methods.

Joshua is a research fellow with the Centre for Environmental Risk Management of Bushfires at the University of Wollongong. His research focuses on the vulnerability and resilience of human communities to bushfire. Josh specialises in post-bushfire research and has undertaken hundreds of interviews with people affected by bushfires. He has led studies into a number of significant fires including the 2009 Black Saturday fires, the 2017 Sir Ivan fire and the 2018 Tathra fire.

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