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Black Ash

By Bonnie Lumsden-Keys, 2009 4:09 minutes

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In this powerful story about Black Saturday, Bonnie gives an account of the emotional reactions of her family and community. The story prompts an exploration of the immediate response by the community, community co-operation, potential conflict and evacuation. She describes family stress, and the reliance on friendship and family in the event of disaster.

Collection Living with Disaster

In what ways do we seek to rely on others in times of stress?

Bonnie describes her Black Saturday experiences as “history in the making”. Some events make such a memorable impact that people will later say, “I remember exactly what I was doing when (an event) occurred”.

  • Make a list of significant local, national and international events which have left a similar impact upon them.
  • What information technology brought this news to you?
  • Was the news accompanied by photographs or live footage, live interviews with people, sound recordings of the incidents?
  • Make a list of the emotions triggered during these events which leave such a profound impression.

Initially the scene of falling black ash seems surreal to Bonnie. Reality strikes home when Bonnie recognises one of the fire fighters in a passing fire truck. “In a flash, two fire trucks go past. I know one of the fire fighters – he has a baby girl and I worry for him. I am scared.”

This direct connection to someone made the threat to people very real for Bonnie. People relate to other people, not statistics.

  • Imagine or remember a natural disaster or crisis that has happened close to your home with people you know. Write emotions and thoughts to describe how you feel.
  • Do you remember seeing reading or hearing about a natural disaster or crisis that has happened a long way away? Write emotions and thoughts that you felt. Compare the emotional impact of the two scenarios.
  • How would you expect to be warned of an impending disaster in your community? Are you, your family and friends aware of how and where any warnings might come from?
  • Collect and interpret data and statistics about an Australian natural disaster. They may research a natural disaster of particular interest to them, one that has affected their region or a friend or family member. Visit

Bonnie initially describes an idyllic summer’s day at the river. When the black ash begins to fall she states, “It is eerie, like something from a horror movie.”

  • Create a list of emotions people might feel at the moment when something eerie begins to happen with a list of corresponding behavioural reactions.

Bonnie describes the chaos that ensued for her family and community over the next few weeks while they were on evacuation alert. She describes some of the stress for her family and her annoyance at other members of the community.

  • Recall Bonnie’s emotions at this time. What caused them?
  • What activities did Bonnie and her family undertake in preparation for evacuation?
  • Discuss the potential conflict between family members in these times of stress.

Bonnie was particularly annoyed with some members of the community.

  • What was the cause for this annoyance? Discuss other potential conflict between members of the community.