Stories of Recovery - After the 2019-20 bushfires

25 Aug 2021

We proudly acknowledge the First Peoples of Victoria and their ongoing strength in practising the world’s oldest living culture. We acknowledge the Traditional Owners of the lands and waters on which we live and work and pay our respects to their Elders past and present.

Keith (Gunaikurnai/Monero people) Gunai/Kurnai Bataluk, 2019 Acrylic on canvas

Pictured: Keith (Gunaikurnai/Monero people) Gunai/Kurnai Bataluk, 2019 Acrylic on canvas

About the artist

Keith is a Gunaikurnai/Monero artist with cultural ties to East Gippsland in Victoria. He started painting three years ago and finds painting very calming. When he paints, he feels at ease and more connected to his ancestors. Keith’s paintings are definied by a bold use of colour and the diamond-shaped line work that is a characteristic of south eastern Aboriginal designs. Bushfire Recovery Victoria partnered with The Torch ( to source this artwork and support the artist.

Stories of Recovery – After the 2019-20 Eastern Victorian Bushfires

During the fire season last year, communities in East Gippsland and our state’s north-east faced the harshest of conditions. The bushfires that raged across the state were devastating and unrelenting. The trauma of last year’s fire season will not be forgotten. The grief remains even as the rebuilding is underway. Recovering from such a devastating bushfire is never easy, but this crisis was made all the more difficult by an unprecedented global health pandemic.

Over the last year I have consistently been amazed at the way communities have faced adversity and come together to grieve, recover and rebuild.

Local communities have led their own recoveries – identifying their own priorities and making their needs known. Whether it’s additional mental health support, case workers to help navigate the system, grants to start rebuilding community facilities or simply extra dollars in the hands of those who need it most – communities are telling us what they need.

Rebuilding from bushfires is about more than bricks and mortar – it’s about rebuilding livelihoods, businesses and communities. This is a long journey and over a year on, it is by no means over. We will continue to stand should-to-shoulder with communities as they rebuild better and stronger – on their own terms.

Bushfire Recovery Victoria (BRV) was established in January 2020 to be the state’s permanent and dedicated agency helping communities recover from the 2019-20 fires in East Gippsland and the North East, and from future bushfire events.

The first fire ignited in November 2019, the last significant fire was contained in February 2020, and in the year that followed, bushfire-affected communities had to endure a second disaster in the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.

Through it all, the generosity and sacrifice of individuals on the ground has driven a true, community-led recovery, where councils, Community Recovery Committees and other local groups have been empowered to set their own local priorities.

We have undertaken a complex bushfire clean-up, rolled out unique modular housing, provided personal, financial and rebuilding support for individuals in need, and coordinated a recovery across the pillars of wellbeing, economy, the built and natural environments and Aboriginal culture and healing.

The journey is ongoing. There is still work ahead of us. We know from previous fires that bushfire recovery is not a matter of months, but a matter of years, and BRV and the Victorian Government, along with our recovery partners, are standing side-by-side with communities for the long haul.

A message from Dr Rob Gordon

Rob Gordon is a clinical psychologist who has worked in disaster recovery since the Ash Wednesday fires.

"At the beginning of this journey, drawing on what people have told me after other disasters, I made the case to communities that a rushed recovery is not necessarily the right recovery.

"I’ve encouraged people to take their time and take a moment to prioritise their personal health and wellbeing and protect what they can’t replace while they deal with their losses – because getting one’s life back together is not a sprint.

"One of the ways that Bushfire Recovery Victoria has worked to help people take time with big decisions is the shortterm modular housing program. It lets people live in comfort and back in their community for a number of years before they decide whether or not to proceed with a rebuild.

"The Recovery Support Program has also provided a real, local point of connection to people in need, and made it easier for those who wouldn’t ordinarily reach out for support to take it up.

"It has continued over time – because the most important factor in any recovery is the decisions people make right now, six months to two years after a disaster.

"To bushfire-affected Victorians, I say that no recovery finishes after 12 months. There’s a fair way to go yet. But it will end. This is a phase of your life, not its totality.

"By finding a sense of community in your local area, with your passions, and with your friends and family – and by taking up the support that you are entitled to and deserve – you will emerge stronger than you know."

Data presented is as at January 2021 unless otherwise noted. We proudly use local talent to photograph and showcase recovery stories, and we are grateful to Rachael Mounsey, Maree Regan and many others for their work.

Authorised and published by Bushfire Recovery Victoria, 121 Exhibition St, Melbourne, 3000.

© State of Victoria, February 2021.

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 international licence.
It is a condition of this licence that you credit the State of Victoria as author.