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Black Saturday anniversary -

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HEATHER EWART, PRESENTER: In Victoria the weekend's heavy rains and flash flooding came on the
second anniversary of the Black Saturday bushfires.

Australia's deadliest blaze claimed the lives of 173 people, after fires burnt across the drought
dry State in sweltering hot and windy conditions.

In one of the tiny towns destroyed that day - Strathewen, just north east of Melbourne - 27 people
died. The community there has fought hard to rebuild and overcome the tragedy, with locals now
hoping what they've learned can help victims of the floods and Cyclone Yasi.

Lisa Whitehead reports.

(Aerial footage of Black Saturday fires)

LISA WHITEHEAD, REPORTER: Before Black Saturday, Mary Avola and Diana Robertson were neighbours.

MARY AVOLA, STRATHEWEN RESIDENT: We'd wave, but no, we didn't know each other before.

LISA WHITEHEAD: Since then, these two women have forged a strong bond as they've worked to help put
the community of Strathewen back on its feet.

MARY AVOLA: We're on a lot of committees. And I'm the joker and Diana is the brains of the team.

LISA WHITEHEAD: The brains trust.

MARY AVOLA: Yeah, she always knows what to say.

LISA WHITEHEAD: Their friendship was cemented in this small relocatable building in the centre of

DIANA ROBERTSON: That's what happens when you're short.

LISA WHITEHEAD: On just about any day of the week, it will be buzzing with locals holding meetings
or just having a barbecue.

MALCOM HACKETT, COMMUNITY RENEWAL ASSOCIATION: It's a bit of glue. It sort of holds the community
together while there hasn't been anything else here that you could call the community.

MARY AVOLA: I don't think I could've gone on without this.

LISA WHITEHEAD: The Black Saturday bushfires claimed 27 lives in this community of just 220 people.

It ripped the heart out of the town, destroying 80 homes, the primary school, the sporting clubs,
and the public hall. This building has been the key to its recovery.

MALCOM HACKETT: I think that you have to have patience.

LISA WHITEHEAD: Malcolm Hackett says communities ravaged by floods and Cyclone Yasi can learn from
Strathewen's experience.

MALCOM HACKETT: Once you can come back into your own territory, you can start thinking about
planning and start organising and being with one another.

So, and I'd say in the scheme of things, in those flood-devastated towns, it's a pretty cheap way
of building up people's confidence.

LISA WHITEHEAD: The Community Renewal Association was formed to speak up for Strathewen, afraid it
was being forgotten in the aftermath, with the focus on bigger centres like Kinglake and

AGNES PERRY, STRATHEWEN RESIDENT: We fell out of the limelight and we just got on with it and did
it ourselves. And I think that's been one of the most positive things that has come out of it all.

LISA WHITEHEAD: Two years on, the rebuilding of Strathewen is clear to see.

The town has a brand new primary school, a sports oval, and the roads have been resurfaced.

But the recovery for the people here who lost loved ones, friends and neighbours is going to take
much longer. And on the second anniversary, they're also having to deal with the closure of relief
centres that have supported them through the worst of times.

(Relief centre worker helps client with supplies)

ELIZABETH SAVAGE-KOOROONYA, STRATHEWEN RESIDENT: I don't want to say this in front of these ladies
but I will be devastated in the sense that- of course I'll get on without it, but it's meant so

These women are treasures.

LISA WHITEHEAD: Elizabeth Savage-Kooroonya says she needed the support of these volunteers as she
struggled to rebuild her life. Her husband Graham was killed on Black Saturday.

ELIZABETH SAVAGE-KOOROONYA: I still say "Graham, where are you?"

Um... this year I think I've spent six months crying, the last six months crying, and suffering
really deep depression.

HELEN LEGG, HURSTBRIDGE BUSHFIRE SUPPORT CENTRE: It has been hard, it has been tough, it's still
tough. I think every day there are people that are very emotional still - very easy to still cry.

LISA WHITEHEAD: After two years, coordinator Helen Legg says it's time to move on.

But she has some words of advice for those organising relief centres in the flood and cyclone
damaged areas.

HELEN LEGG: It doesn't have to be bright and colourful and full of the latest technology. It has to
just have that warmth of humanity.

LISA WHITEHEAD: On the second anniversary of Black Saturday, it's time for people to try and make
sense of what happened, according to psychologist Dr Rob Gordon.

DR ROB GORDON, PSYCHOLOGIST: You could think of it as like a time of digesting this massive

And it's a hard and painful time. It's also the time when people will begin to grieve more deeply,
the people and the things and the environment and the community that they've lost.

LISA WHITEHEAD: For the individuals affected, the biggest challenge is making decisions about their
own future.

AGNES PERRY: We did anguish about it, especially because of our age and the fact that our
neighbours have all gone.

LISA WHITEHEAD: Agnes Perry and her husband escaped the inferno but 11 people died within 400
metres of their house. She agonised over the decision, but has decided to stay and rebuild.

AGNES PERRY: Our community is here and, you know, people we know. It's where we belong, I think.

LISA WHITEHEAD: Mary Avola was separated from her husband Peter on Black Saturday as they tried to
flee the flames.

She never saw him again.

Strathewen was her home for 40 years but she's decided to move away.

MARY AVOLA: I'm an older person and I couldn't manage to rebuild and look after the property I
have. Not then.

It's taken me two years to, you know, feel like I'm sort of on the way.

LISA WHITEHEAD: After extensive work with bushfire affected communities, Dr Rob Gordon is now
advising relief agencies in Queensland. He urges flood and cyclone victims to take their time
making decisions, and not to put all their energies into rebuilding.

ROB GORDON: We know that many people who just simply put all their focus into rebuilding neglect
their relationships and health and children and so on, and end up on the other end of this with a
nice house and then all of these important things have been, you know, downgraded and damaged.

LISA WHITEHEAD: Strathewen is the proud recipient of a Commonwealth award for its work in building
a safer community. But it's been a long, hard road.

MALCOM HACKETT: It shouldn't be underestimated how difficult that is in the post fire, post
disaster period - when emotions are running high, people are wondering about their own futures - to
actually come together and talk about the community. The activities that have flowed from that, I
think, have been a huge achievement.

HEATHER EWART: Lisa Whitehead with that report.