Vulnerability to bushfires in south-eastern Australia: a case study from East Gippsland, Victoria

Whittaker, W 2008, Vulnerability to bushfires in south-eastern Australia: a case study from East Gippsland, Victoria, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), Mathematical and Geospatial Sciences, RMIT University.


Document type: Thesis
Collection: Theses

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Title Vulnerability to bushfires in south-eastern Australia: a case study from East Gippsland, Victoria
Author(s) Whittaker, W
Year 2008
Abstract This thesis is an analysis of human vulnerability to bushfires in the Wulgulmerang district of East Gippsland, Victoria, in south-eastern Australia. On January 30, 2003, bushfires devastated the small population of this isolated farming district. The fires destroyed homes, livelihood assets and public infrastructure. They also adversely affected the health, livelihoods and social lives of many local people. Australian bushfire research has traditionally focused on the geophysical dimensions of fire hazards and disasters, with little consideration of how cultural, economic, political and social factors shape people’s exposure to hazards and their capacities to cope and adapt to bushfire impacts. To date, there have been no systematic, social science analyses of human vulnerability to bushfires.

The vulnerability analysis presented in this thesis concentrates on two key research questions: (1) How and why were people exposed to hazards during the bushfires? and (2) How and why were people differentially capable of coping and adapting to the fires’ impacts? Qualitative methods were primarily used to investigate these questions, including semi-structured interviews with residents and landholders of the Wulgulmerang district, representatives of government departments and authorities, and others who participated in responses to the fires.

The thesis develops a multifaceted understanding of how and why people were vulnerable to the January 30 fires. Vulnerability is shown to arise from the circumstances of people’s day to day lives, which are shaped by factors both within and beyond their control. Local pressures and challenges – such as drought, declining farm incomes, depopulation, limited access to essential services, and political marginality – are shown to increase people’s exposure to bushfire hazards and reduce their capacities to cope and adapt. The thesis demonstrates the fundamental importance of sustainable livelihoods and regional economic and social vitality to the long-term goal of vulnerability reduction.
Degree Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Institution RMIT University
School, Department or Centre Mathematical and Geospatial Sciences
Keyword(s) Bushfires -- Victoria
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