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Bushfire survivors join the circus -

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ELIZABETH JACKSON: When 173 people died and thousands of homes were burned down in the Victorian
bushfires this year Australians donated hundreds of millions of dollars to the bushfire appeal
fund.

Most of the money has been spent rebuilding houses and providing people with essential goods and
services but today the money is also being used to lift the spirits of school students who survived
the fires. They're going to a circus.

Simon Lauder reports.

(Circus music)

SIMON LAUDER: The colour and fanfare is a world away from Black Saturday. But this circus musical
would be without drum player Jed McIntosh if he hadn't have had his priorities straight on the 7th
of February.

JED MCINTOSH: We live in (inaudible) West and we actually moved, we moved out before because the
fire were coming our way. I'm in a brass band and we had their trailer at our house and we actually
just piled all the stuff into the trailer and just took off.

SIMON LAUDER: That quick action saved the drums but Jed McIntosh and his family lost their house.
The 12-year-old says being involved in a state education department production which has just
opened in Melbourne has been a good distraction from the trauma of the fires.

JED MCINTOSH: I mean it's not anyone's cup of tea getting your house burnt down but like the first
few days after stuff happens you get all depressed and everything. But, I'm not saying forget about
what happened but just look to the good things.

SIMON LAUDER: And does escapism help as well?

JED MCINTOSH: Yes, yeah, it very helps to have a distraction and stuff.

SIMON LAUDER: The head of the Victorian Bushfire Reconstruction and Recovery Authority, Christine
Nixon, is hoping the lively portrayal of the life of American showman PT Barnum will lift the
spirits of 1000 school students from bushfire affected areas who have come to Melbourne to see the
show today.

CHRISTINE NIXON: What I've watched in many of the communities in the fires is that a chance for
them to have a break away from the darkness sometimes, the winter that people have been going
through.

And so this occasion is so much light and so much fun. You can't underestimate the difference it
can make to people, just to be able to get out, a chance to meet other people who've had similar
circumstances and have a bit of fun.

SIMON LAUDER: Ms Nixon has been travelling around the bushfire affected towns since the day of the
fires. She says thousands of school children were left traumatised by the fires and a day at the
circus is part of the healing process.

CHRISTINE NIXON: It's just not going to be sort of a short term thing. It's going take some time.
And young people that I've been talking to are gradually coming to terms with what happened.

SIMON LAUDER: Are students in different age groups generally affected in different ways?

CHRISTINE NIXON: Yes they are. The younger students, different effect. In some cases we're seeing
them recover more quickly. Teenagers don't seem to want to talk about it a lot and so we've got to
find different ways and this is perhaps one of them.

SIMON LAUDER: How extensive is any counselling that's happening? What's happening apart from taking
kids to the circus, that kind of thing?

CHRISTINE NIXON: We're doing more than taking kids to the circus. We have about nearly 400 case
workers who've been assigned to work with families and individuals across the whole of the State in
the fire affected areas.

We also have school counsellors who've been put in place. We've got the YMCA who've been given
responsibility for significant use of the bushfire funds to be able to run camps and other
occasions.

And there are lots of private organisations, lots of different groups who are coming together. And
we're also hiring youth workers in the councils to be able to meet with young people. So there's a
lot of resources.

SIMON LAUDER: After long bus journeys from all over Victoria the students arrived at Melbourne's
comedy theatre this morning for a matinee performance.

Year 5 student from Churchill, Vanessa, isn't sure what to expect, but is glad to be among others
who have similar experiences.

VANESSA: We were a kilometre away from one of the fires which was at the tip and the sun went all
red. It was very scary.

SIMON LAUDER: What's it been like since then? Has it been hard just reliving those memories?

VANESSA: Yeah. I feel sorry for the people that haven't got homes and stuff like that.

SIMON LAUDER: And what are you hoping to see today?

VANESSA: Um, I don't know.

SIMON LAUDER: As he prepares for his performance Jed McIntosh has this advice.

JED MCINTOSH: Yeah, just take up a distraction. Learn a musical instrument, you know maybe drums or
anything. Just think about the future and the good things to come instead of the bad things.

ELIZABETH JACKSON: Simon Lauder reporting.