Women's Health Goulburn North East
Women's Health Goulburn North East

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Email whealth@whealth.com.au

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Identifying the Hidden Disaster

The First Australian Conference on Natural Disasters and Family Violence

9 March 2012 — Melbourne     |     Sponsored by the Nikolaous Institute and VicHealth

Identifying the Hidden DisasterThis Australia-first conference was held in Melbourne on Friday, 9 March 2012 and opened by the Deputy Commissioner of Victorian Police, Tim Cartwright. Keynote speakers were Elaine Enarson, leading International researcher on gender and disaster; Lois Herbert, manager of the Battered Women’s Refuge in Christchurch; and Megan Sety from the Australian Domestic and FV Clearinghouse. A highlight of the conference was the first hand and heartrending accounts from two women whose relationships suffered in the aftermath of Black Saturday.

The conference provided a perfect forum for the launch of the first Australian research to examine the impact on relationships after a natural disaster, ‘The Way He Tells It’, from WHGNE. Issues raised in this research were considered by 12 key players in disaster management in a ‘Hypothetical’. The day concluded with five Action Planning Workshops to give delegates the opportunity to discuss the implications of the conference learnings and identify achievable actions.

Download File Conference Handbook
File Size 1.3MB


Conference proceedings

MC - Nelly Thomas

Conference Opening

Aunty Diane Kerr from the Wurundjeri Tribe for Welcome to Country

Deputy Commissioner of Victorian Police, Tim Cartwright     |    View the Opening Presentation     |     Transcript

Keynote Address

Elaine Enarson - Women, disaster and violence: International patterns, responses and emerging issues
View Presentation    |    Conference  Powerpoint

Launch of the Environmental Justice website
View Presentation     |     Transcript


Debra Parkinson and Claire Zara - Introducing The Way He Tells It. the first Australian research to examine the impact on relationships after a natural disaster.
Conference Paper     |     View the Presentation

Sharon Burke and Linda Haggar - Hearing Women’s Voices from the Bushfires.
View the Presentation

Lois Herbert - The Christchurch Earthquakes—we are survivors.
Conference Power Point    |       View the Presentation

Megan Sety - Natural disasters and intimate partner violence: what the international research tells us.
Paper     |     View the Presentation

Hypothetical Discussion and Panel

View the Hypothetical Discussion    |      Hypothetical – Part 1    |      Hypothetical – Part 2    |      Hypothetical – Part 3

Ayfer Berdilek - Family Violence Outreach Worker at Mitchell Community Health
Dr Christine Eriksen - Social Geographer with the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research at the University of Wollongong.
Lyn Gunter - Flowerdale resident for 33 years serving five terms as Murrindindi Mayor and two as Deputy Mayor
Colleen Clark - Deputy Director Operations for Health and Human Services Emergency Management
Christine Healy - Management and experience in community recovery after emergencies and disasters
John Burgess - Former chair of the Flowerdale Recovery Committee.
Dr Sharon des Landes - Senior Clinician with Tune-In (unable to attend)
Helen Matthews - An accredited family law specialist
Cathy Weiss - University of Melbourne Student
Jan Cooper - Worker in the area of violence against women
DI Kerryn Hynam - Detective Inspector with the Victoria Police
Gwynne Brennan - CFA

Action Planning Workshops

WORKSHOP 1 - On the ground after a disaster: Responding to family violence
Ayfer Berdile & Rose Marsh

WORKSHOP 2 - How family violence organisations can manage increased demands during and after a disaster
Lois Herbert & Megan Sety

WORKSHOP 3 - Emergency management: Planning ahead to reduce gender violence in disasters
Elaine Enarson & Gwynne Brennan (View a summary of actions)

WORKSHOP 4 - Open Discussion: Share your ideas, questions and feedback about family violence in the wake of natural disasters
Claire Zara & Debra Parkinson

WORKSHOP 5 - Responding to men’s violence after a disaster
Chris Lamming

Key themes and examples from action postcards : (View a summary of actions)

Art Therapy Room

The art therapy space at this conference provided a place for people to explore art materials that could help express what was on their mind and/or take a load off their mind. Paint, pastels, textas, pencils, collage materials-images and a variety of papers all sat waiting to be utilized. There were opportunities to make 2 or 3 dimensional work, individual and/or collaborative pieces. Some participants had used art materials before; others were adamant they couldn't 'do art'. Others were sure of what they wanted to do, as well as those who were equally as happy to just talk and dabble.

There were sometimes words or statements that accompanied the art work, often a narrative would sum up what they saw in their work. There was no specific emphasis on finished products as time was limited due to the nature of workshops and addresses. Most comments were about the freedom to indulge in the process of colour making, exploring materials and  making marks. Mostly people expressed their enjoyment of experiencing a relaxing non judgmental environment away from the main hub of the conference.

Delegates Responses to the conference

Written feedback was received from 50 of the 200 or so participants at the Conference. It showed that AFTER the conference:

Change in beliefs pre and post conference

We asked for level of agreement with this statement: ’Before attending this conference, I believed that family violence increases after disasters’
68% agreed or strongly agreed BEFORE, and this figure increased to 98% AFTER the Conference, with 86% agreeing strongly.

Change in belief that family violence isnreases after disasters

We asked
for level of agreement with this statement: ‘Before attending this conference, I was aware and knowledgeable about the dynamics of family violence after a disaster s’
45% agreed or strongly agreed BEFORE, and AFTER, 81% agreed or agreed strongly they were more informed about this.

Change in knowledge of family violence dynamics post disaster

Verbal feedback


Nelly Thomas, MChas been described as one of Australia's most natural and intelligent comedians. As well as being an award-winning performer, she was listed as one of Australia's "most innovative thinkers" in The Age newspaper's, The Zone in 2011 and was recently featured on the ABC's Big Ideas: The Smartest Stuff on TV, Radio and Online. Nelly recently released her latest comedy DVD The Talk (a sexual health and ethics DVD for teens and their carers) to popular and critical acclaim, and is releasing her first book, What Women Want, this year. Nelly continues to do live work in the community and government sectors, in particular, as a highly sought-after speaker, MC and producer of custom-made performances, specialising in social commentary and health promotion. She has many years of experience in these and related fields, including women’s and adolescent health, and is currently studying post-graduate psychology at the University of Melbourne in her spare time to bolster this work.

Tim Cartwright has been the Acting Deputy Commissioner (Crime and Operations Support) since July 2011, responsible for the following Departments : Crime, Intelligence and Covert Support, Ethical Standards, Media and Corporate Communications, Forensic Services, and Legal Services. He has executive responsibility for the Victoria Police Violence Against Women and Children strategy, and Information Security.  In 2008, Tim was promoted to Assistant Commissioner, responsible for one of the State’s five Regions.  In 2009 he formed and led a team for the realignment of the police Regional boundaries, subsequently taking the lead of the new North West Metro Region in July 2010.

Elaine Enarson, PhD Personal experience sparked Elaine’s extensive work on gender, vulnerability and community resilience following Hurricane Andrew in 1992. In 1999, Elaine conducted some of the first research to explore the link between Domestic violence and natural disasters in the US and Canada. In addition to research publications, she co-edited The Gendered Terrain of Disaster: Through Women’s Eyes (1998), Women, Gender and Disaster:  Global issues and Initiatives (2009), and The Women of Katrina: How Gender, Race and Class Matter in an American Disaster (2012) and is now finalising a book on women and disaster in the United States.   Elaine speaks  widely on the topic and has conducted training on mitigating gender violence in disasters and related subjects.

Elaine is a founding member of the Gender and Disaster Network and of the US-based Gender and Disaster Resilience Alliance and continues to consult with UN agencies on gender-responsive disaster planning. She initiated and directed the development of a FEMA course on social vulnerability, a grassroots risk assessment project with women in the Caribbean, and the electronic Gender and Disaster Sourcebook project. While teaching disaster studies in Brandon University's Department of Applied Disaster and Emergency Studies (Manitoba, Canada), she helped facilitate community resilience workshops and later developed a gender mainstreaming manual for emergency managers and an emergency preparedness workbook for women’s organisations. Currently, she teaches emergency management graduate students on-line for Canadian and US institutions and is developing a new course on Women and Climate Change for the Gender and Women’s Studies program at the University of Denver

Debra Parkinson is a social researcher, committed to feminism and social justice. She has worked for Women’s Health Goulburn North East (WHGNE) since 1997, completing research on women leaving violent relationships and partner rape. Debra is currently a PhD candidate (Monash University) researching violence against women in the aftermath of the Black Saturday bushfires. During 2009-10, Debra worked  for the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault and now works for both Women’s Health Goulburn North East and Women’s Health in the North.

Claire Zara is a health promotions worker with Women’s Health Goulburn North East since 2007. Her background is in journalism, teaching and research. She worked extensively with women and workers on this bushfire report. Claire is passionate about ensuring that women’s voices are heard and their experiences and needs incorporated into all levels of society.

Sharon Burke is a long term resident of Marysville and mother of three children. Following her Black Saturday experiences her fire fighter husband became reclusive, sometimes violent and eventually left the family. Only much later was he diagnosed with PTSD, by then it was too late.

Linda Haggar had been a comedy writer for 20 years until she moved to Kinglake in 2004 for peace and quiet and to be part of a tight community. Linda is a survivor of Black Saturday. That dark day and the anguished recovery that followed was, and still is, her biggest life challenge. She is a mother of three and grandmother to another three and lived with her partner of 38 years….until the fire came.

Lois Herbert is the manager of the Battered Women’s Refuge in Christchurch, New Zealand, which offers safe accommodation and community services for women and children. In her 10 years with the Battered Women’s Refuge in Christchurch, Lois describes 2011 as the most challenging year yet. As a result of the Christchurch earthquakes, the refuge lost the safe house to earthquake damage, was unable to use its offices for a period of time, and staff and volunteers lost family members and close friends in the earthquake. She has a unique perspective on the relationship between natural disasters and family violence. Lois is also a member of the governing board of the national Collective of Independent Women’s Refuges in New Zealand.

Megan Sety is a social researcher who has worked in public health and social policy development, programming and research in Australia, NZ and the US. Through her work at public health departments in the US and NZ, Megan developed skills in emergency risk communication and consequently coordinated the public health emergency communications during the Wellington regional emergency response to H1N1 influenza (NZ). In her work at a local public health unit in NZ, she developed a program to address family violence. Currently, as the Research and Information officer at the Australian Domestic and Family Violence Clearinghouse, Megan conducts research projects and writes paper exploring issues of intimate partner violence, including a thematic review of domestic violence and natural disasters.

Ayfer Berdilek was born in Ankara, Turkey and migrated to Australia when she was a young child. She grew up in multicultural Coburg, Melbourne. She moved to Wandong, Victoria, 15 years ago and was busy raising a family for most of the early years. She completed a Bachelor of Arts at La Trobe University majoring in Women’s Studies and became fascinated by the subject. Ayfer has worked in the homelessness sector for six years and at Mitchell Community Health as a Family Violence Outreach Worker since the end of 2009. She is currently studying the last leg of a Masters in Social Work at La Trobe University.

Dr Christine Eriksen is a social geographer with the Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research at the University of Wollongong. Her research examines bushfire awareness and preparedness amongst women, men, households, communities and agencies at the rural-urban interface. This research examines two regions where bushfires are common and disastrous, and dealing with them is a major political issue: southeast Australia and the west coast United States. Christine’s work follows women’s and men’s stories of surviving, fighting, evacuating, living and working with bushfire to reveal the intimate inner workings of bushfire response—and the culturally and historically distinct gender relations that underpin bushfire resilience.

Lyn Gunter has lived in Flowerdale for 33 years. She is deeply committed to her community and has been a foster parent and participated in various committees organisations including Red Cross, CFA, Flowerdale Hall Committee, Parents Club and School council. Lyn was first elected as a councilor for the Shire of Yea in 1986 where she served until 1992. As a result of being a councilor, she became the Controller of the Kinglake VICSES unit from 1987-1997. Lyn has served five terms as Murrindindi Mayor and two as Deputy Mayor. Lyn resigned from the council in December 2009 and has continued to support the community in a voluntary capacity. She has collated a document on recovering from disaster on behalf of the community. Lyn started the Murrindindi women's Forum which became a support group for women.

Colleen Clark has a Masters in Social Work from Hunter College NYC majoring in clinical social work. Colleen pioneered working with infants placed in foster care who were born HIV positive in NYC before moving to Melbourne in 1989. Within the Department of Human Services she worked in Child Protection and Out of Home Care for 10 years and in 2009 moved into Emergency Management, establishing the Victorian Bushfire Case Management Service to assist people affected by the Black Saturday bushfires and the Flood Support Worker Program for those affected by the 2010-11 floods. Colleen is currently the Deputy Director Operations for Health and Human Services Emergency Management.

Christine Healy had an extensive career in public sector management in the Victorian, NSW and ACT Governments, and experience in community recovery after emergencies and disasters. She was the Director of the ACT Bushfire Recovery Centre after the devastating 2003 bushfires. Chris was a consultant to the Queensland Government on recovery services after Tropical Cyclone Larry and evaluated Australian Government recovery arrangements after the cyclone. In 2007, she toured the UK and the US, studying recovery services after the London Bombings, 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina. In 2010, she was a member of a team that evaluated the Victorian Bushfire Case Management Service. She is currently undertaking doctoral studies in disaster recovery in the Social Work School at the Australian Catholic University, Canberra.

John Burgess has played an integral role in the rebuilding of Flowerdale. In the aftermath he was part of the emergency group that responded to the crisis. John is the former chair of the Flowerdale Recovery Committee. Thirty town-based community advisory groups driven by local residents have been set up across the fire zone. Flowerdale is one of them. In July 2009 the community held a future forum with the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority to determine the needs and wants of Flowerdale.

Dr Sharon des Landes trained as a clinical psychologist and has over 30 years experience working with traumatised people. She has been part of community responses to emergences for over 20 years. Since 2009 she has been closely involved with the recovery response to the Victorian bushfires, acting as the full-time consultant to Berry Street’s recovery programs. She also responded to the Christchurch earthquake. DHS have been contracting her to talk about psychosocial recovery to community members and workers in flood affected communities in Western and Northern Victoria since last year. Her current role is as a Senior Clinician with Tune-In, a trauma informed counselling service for 10-26 year olds and their families who have been impacted by the Victorian bushfires.

Helen Matthews is a family lawyer with more than 20 years experience. An accredited family law specialist, Helen has practiced in the private sector, with Victoria Legal Aid (VLA) and has worked in legal education and training at VLA and the University of Qld. Helen has recently been appointed as the principal lawyer with Women’s Legal Service Victoria (WLSV). WSLV provides legal services to women in matters arising out of relationship breakdown and where there has been violence against women and the children in their care.

Cathy Weiss is a student at the University of Melbourne, studying ecology, Arabic and political science, women and gender. In her capacity as research assistant with WHIN since 2009, she recently completed a literature review on environmental justice and the effects of climate change on women.

Jan Cooper has worked in the area of violence against women for the past nine years, including in family violence crisis casework, violence against women training, primary prevention work and in raising awareness through the arts. At the time of the 2009 Black Saturday Bushfires she was working at both Women's Domestic Violence Crisis Service and the Domestic Violence Resource Centre. She is currently the Central Victorian Coordinator for Prevention of Violence Against Women in Greater City of Bendigo, Mount Alexander Shire Council and Macedon Ranges Shire Council.

Kerryn Hynam is a Detective Inspector with the Victoria Police for whom she has worked for more than 30 years. The majority of her career has been spent as a Detective, investigating and oversighting investigations into serious crimes. Kerryn transferred to the Crime Department ‘Violence Against Women and Children Strategy Group’ in early 2010, after spending the previous 5 years in the position of Inspector Community Engagement - Western Region, which incorporated the role of Regional Family Violence Manager, Multicultural Liaison Manager and Police Aboriginal Liaison Officer. Kerryn uses a human rights approach in policing, and is committed to delivering a more integrated and victim focused response to sexual assault, child abuse and family violence.

Gwynne Brennan has been with CFA for thirteen years. Commencing her career in the Grampians region, Gwynne has had a number of roles including brigade support, acting as Manager Community Safety on a number of occasions as well as a six month stint as acting Finance and Admin Manager. Gwynne was appointed Manager Community development in 2008 based at CFA Headquarters and has overseen this function through the transformative times since the 2009 fires.More recently Gwynne has been acting Executive Manager Fire Management Planning Systems responsible for Victoria's Fire Risk Register, the Township Protection Planning Process and the identification of Neighborhood Safer Places. Gwynne has significant expertise in program design and development and is committed to building capacity in brigades to deliver community education and engage with the communities they live in.

Rose Marsh has BA, BSW, Masters in Policy and Governance (pending). Rose has worked extensively in the homelessness and family violence sector with women, families and young people. Rose has experience working in the education sector and also completed social planning project work role for local government. Rose has worked for Mitchell Community Health Service for the past four years, coordinating the counselling and support services including the Family Violence program for the Shires of Mitchell and Murrindindi.

Chris Laming, PhD is a Senior Lecturer at Monash University Gippsland, has worked overseas in community development projects, as well as developing a men’s behaviour change program in Gippsland as part of an integrated response to family violence. His research focuses on a constructivist approach to challenging men's violence against women and children, men's behaviour change programs and police and community integrated responses to family violence. He is currently on the SAFER (Safety and Accountability in Families: Evidence and Research), (2007-12) research team, and recently helped coordinate an evaluation of the Gippsland Community Walk Against Violence. A collaborative community education initiative between Aboriginal and mainstream services. Chris works at the Gippsland Campus which was the staging area for emergency services during the Gippsland fires and lives in a weatherboard house in a rural locality with his partner, a CFA volunteer, his 93 year old father, a dog, cat and some chooks.

Tim Cartwright's opening address at Identifying Hidden Disaster Conference

Helen Riseborough - Susie Reid launch Enviromental Justice Website