This PhD research project is being undertakenby Ms Gretel Evans of the Univesity of Melbourne and explores histories of migration and natural disasters in Australia by investigating migrants’ memories of bushfires and floods. Studies of natural disasters often focus on disaster prevention and preparation, emergency management or the immediate aftermath and recovery period, however, my research focuses on the long term legacy of such events. Building on developing studies of community responses to disaster, my research focuses on the unique experiences of immigrant communities and their experiences of natural disasters in Australia. I am conducting oral history interviews with people who were born overseas and for various reasons, including war and other catastrophes, migrated to Australia where they happened to settle in either a bushfire or flood prone area and subsequently experienced a natural disaster. Through these interviews I endeavour to learn more about how natural disasters influence migrants’ sense of identity and belonging within the Australian community and environment. My project examines how the migration experience, coupled with a fire or flood, affects our understanding of place, home, community and environment.
This research occurs at the intersection of migration, oral history and memory studies but speaks to the environmental humanities and, of course, broader studies of natural disasters and community response and recovery. In particular, I’m interested in whether migrant communities are more vulnerable to natural disasters than other segments of the population, and how they respond in the aftermath of these events. Through case studies of floods in Maitland, NSW and of bushfires in Victoria this research will contribute to understandings of migrant relationships to the Australian environment and community, and the long-term legacy of natural disasters on this process.