Kate: Community Member and Volunteer

[ACKNOWLEDGEMENT]…For me it’s really important to acknowledge that I never want to revisit the day of the bushfires, and I never downplay the horrendous nature of what was lost on that day and since then.

I’m also really grateful for so many of opportunities and relationships and friendships that have come since then.

[LAYERS]…I think it’s a challenging one because there’s so much that has gone on in the last five years, lots of incremental, small incremental, growth, and then at times big growth. And to single out just one of those is difficult.

For me, five years ago (before the fires), I would have never looked forward and thought that my life would be in this place. I think – I know – it’s a better place than what I was in five years ago because of the growth that’s happened. The growth that’s happened on so many levels.

[EMOTIONAL GROWTH] …For me the emotional growth that has come through falling over a lot of times and deciding to really grovel with the tough stuff, some of that being from the Black Saturday experience, but a lot of that also from other times in my life, which I’ve then been motivated and said, well, I can’t deal with one thing in isolation, I’ve actually got to look at that as being one piece in the bigger puzzle…. So it was kind of the impetus, the motivation, to tackle some of those things.

[MENTAL HEALTH]…And some of those things, for me a big one was around my mental health. … and to learn so much from a research perspective, from just a grass roots perspective of raising awareness within the community and being able to have those conversations. And from me being able to really start grappling with the tough stuff has meant that my mental health is in a far better place than what it has been for nearly a decade. It hasn’t been easy, but it’s certainly been valuable.

[SKILLS]…In terms of the growth professionally, I would never have thought that I’d be in this space that I am now. …Even though I say professionally, a lot of my stuff is done on a volunteer basis, but in terms of public speaking, visiting other communities, sharing the knowledge that the Firefoxes’ network has gathered, around everything from disaster preparation and recovery and response through to how do you engage communities and how do you build projects, and how do you gather voices and listen to voices that haven’t been heard. … A whole range of new skills that I’ve learned along the way being involved in that has just been remarkable.

… And the kinds of skills that I’ve had to learn are everything from grant writing and being part of research projects through to a lot of public speaking and being involved with agencies and policy making. And all of that in amongst the amazing things that we’ve been sharing with our community, and other communities, around community events and dinners and retreats and other things.

[COMMUNITY RESPONSE]…Firefoxes’ emerged a couple of months after the Black Saturday fires when myself and Jemima got together and noticed that there was a different gender response to the disaster…We were just noticing what was going on and seeing the men picking up their tool belts and trying to fix things and the women were really playing a nurturing role and we wondered what we could do to better support the women in that role… and to cut a long story short from there grew Firefoxes which is a grassroots psychosocial support group which originated in the Kinglake Ranges community, but certainly embraced people from a whole range of other communities and other experiences.

And now the model of Firefoxes we’ve been able to take that up to other disaster affected communities in Queensland and right through to Tassie.

[CAREER] …I very much moved away from my career, which was in teaching, (I’m a secondary school teacher) and moved much more towards something which is a passion, and that’s working with communities who are in some way affected by, or at risk of being affected by, disasters.

[PASSION]…I had no disaster experience at all. I had some traumas in my life but no different to those that a lot of other people have also faced in their lives. I never ever thought that my passion would move in that direction until I experienced that and realized how many incredible women we have in our community and that I wanted to be more connected with those women. And that not only did I want to better support them but I needed their support in order to continue growing and to get my life back on track.

And look, I have to tell you that as much as I give to my community, I get it back ten-fold.

[RELATIONSHIPS]…The new friendships that I have, the opportunities to meet people and to really learn a lot more about myself and my skills, and to embrace the darker sides of myself. When I say the darker sides – the things that often I was embarrassed to talk about; I was embarrassed to talk about my mental health, or I didn’t want to say I can’t do that or don’t know how to do that, whereas now, because I feel that I have a safe environment in which to do that and am surrounded by people who support me and love me and walk my journey with me, I feel that I can do that, and I didn’t have that beforehand.

I’m not grateful for the fires, but I am so grateful for not only the opportunity to grow but for the safe environment in which to do that. And for the incredible mentors that have come my way as part of this process who have taught me so much about who I am and what my purpose is in life and how to be grateful for things that happen in your life. Being a part of this safe environment, being a part of the community in a broader sense, has made me realize that I don’t have to start being ready and perfect and right to go; I can just have a go. And sometimes that works really well and sometimes you’ve got to tweak a few bits and pieces, but even to have that courage to give it a go, it’s been such a change for me.

I’ve got much more interest in pursuing my own personal growth and development as well as opportunities like Firefoxes and lots of things.

[TIME]…sometimes growth is immediate and sometimes you don’t recognize it until sometime later… I think also that sometimes events happen and the growth actually doesn’t happen or come about until some time later. And so it’s often good to come back to that or get some feedback on that, so that you can reflect back and say, ‘well this is how far I’ve come’ or ‘I hadn’t realized what was actually going on during that time, when I was in a really bad place, or in a really good place. But now I see, I can see it’.

Sometimes I look back on things that happened 10 or 20 years ago and I get the greatest amount of growth now from those things. I wasn’t ready to learn the lesson back then. So, I don’t know whether I’ve been through my greatest period of growth in relation to this [Black Saturday] experience.

… the Firefoxes growth will continue for as long as the people need that and it takes some new and exciting directions. And my growth, I hope will never end. I hope that I continue to learn from this experience and my other traumatic and wonderful experiences as well, that will guide me through my life.

[GROWTH ENABLER]…I think in terms of encouraging growth, the conversations were the most important things: the conversations that you had at home with your family, your partner, the conversations that you had as one community member to another, that you had as a community or you had as an individual talking to those people who are making decisions.

When the stories are shared, and the conversations come back and forward and the relationships build, then it’s not just a document or suggestion or something else, it becomes real. And it’s a beginning of a conversation that hopefully continues, and it’s there that there is great growth not only for the person telling the story, but for the person who is hearing it and possibly responding.

And so, I think that in terms of growth, the more that we can share our stories in a really articulate and productive way, and be solution focused rather than problem focused, the more growth is there not only for the system, but also for the individual.