Bushfire Crisis in Australia – update 20 January 2020

Note: This update is not meant to be comprehensive

With further evacuations and fires out of control in Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia, the critical bushfire situation across the country continues. Damage to some heritage property will only be known once affected areas are declared safe, and damage has been assessed and able to be reported. The sheer scale of the fires, the sensitive nature of many of the areas affected and with so many communities and wildlife displaced, the effort ahead is still ongoing and enormous.

Australia ICOMOS have updated their Heritage Toolkit to include a Rapid Assessment Form for Fire Affected Heritage Places for use by local councils. BSA has added a list of Recovery Agencies to our website.

From a GLAM perspective there are still no reports (yet) of libraries, archives or museums being damaged. A number of small galleries have sustained damage, but information is brief at this time. Severe smoke did affect cultural institutions in Canberra in January.

A number of heritage houses have sustained significant damage, especially in Victoria including Towong Historical Homestead. Victoria still has many fires burning but we acknowledge the East Gippsland region has been devastated. The South Coast Region of New South Wales and Victoria including the towns of Mogo with heritage houses and Cobargo and Mallacoota.

Some of the Kosciuszko Huts have been lost but with great work by NPWS and NSWRFS staff on saving so many. There are further reports of the loss of heritage at the Huts and Selwyn Snow Resort and the Kiandra Courthouse.

While the Jenolan Caves House was saved, there is significant damage close to the property. We are grateful that much of the Wollemi Pines Heritage Listed area has been protected.

There has been significant destruction and damage on Kangaroo Island.

There has been an update on Budj Bim National Park indigenous sites. It has been noted that many indigenous site areas are not yet safe to return to, to make any assessments at this time. We note comments from the Yuin South Coast of NSW Elders but also acknowledging the immediate and significant human need priority in the region.

Blue Shield Australia would like to note that if you are an owner of a State Heritage listed place affected by the fires (or other severe weather events), or if you are aware of any impacts to Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Places and sites, or historic archaeological sites please contact your state Heritage Council or Department.

Conservation Volunteers Australia has been selected by the Australian Government to coordinate the national environmental volunteering response to the bushfire crisis. You can register your interest as a volunteer here. There are many other groups co-ordinating assistance, with BlazeAid being just one example.

We would like to acknowledge communities that sustained bushfires months ago, who are now very much in a difficult recovery phase. This includes Bobin and Wytaliba in the Glen Innes region, North Coast NSW and also Port Macquarie and the Blue Mountains. The ZigZag Railway is calling for volunteers and donations.

This heartfelt post by Kate Brady from Australian Red Cross describes the anguish, patience and fortitude that we must have for the very long recovery that’s ahead – it’s an important read on the blog by John Richardson.

One site to consider for a broad overview is the Wikipedia 2019-20 Australian Bushfire Season page and other useful pages with collated national information are currently being added and updated.

The Australian GLAM peak bodies and Blue Shield Australia will meet during the week of 20th January 2020 to discuss and update on the current situation and focus on planning for future support for affected communities and cultural heritage sites.

We thank the national and international cultural heritage community for their ongoing support and concern.

Sue Hutley, Chair, Blue Shield Australia info@blueshieldaustralia.org.au