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Remembering Saturday

The generosity and courage shown by many Faculty staff during the bushfire disaster brought to light all of the best aspects of community.

Set in pastoral Victoria, the idyllic setting of the Monash Gippsland Campus became its greatest threat when the Churchill fires swept within 900 metres of the grounds earlier this year.

The Faculty of Medicine, Nursing and Health Sciences was close to the fires in many other ways than just proximity. The Alfred Hospital – one of our major hospital partners – took over primary care for some of the severe burns survivors from the blazes of Black Saturday.

Forensic specialists from the Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine (which doubles as the Department of Forensic Medicine) undertook the nightmarish task of identifying those who didn’t make it to the burns ward.

Meanwhile, the Monash Gippsland Campus became the staging area for the local CFA, as well as a temporary home for evacuees.

“I spent 15 hours one day making bread rolls for the firefighters. That was my daughter’s 18th birthday and she came up and helped as well,” says Judy Lawless, placement coordinator with the Gippsland Medical School.

She was just one of several staff and students whose homes and lives came under threat during the bushfires that began in late January and reached their peak on 7 February. 

“The Saturday night of the fires, we stood on our property and watched the tornado of fire that flew across the hills towards Yarraman. We saw a house explode.”

The Faculty offered unconditional support to staff who needed time off to defend their homes or who volunteered in various capacities. It also financed new textbooks for several students whose properties had been affected by the blazes.

Medical student Nicolas Smoll chronicled those strange days in a powerful series of photographs.

“There is one picture where, standing to my left while I was taking the picture, was a man videotaping his house being burnt to the ground,” says Mr Smoll.

These images, along with the stories of three Faculty staff members, illustrate the sense of community and giving that grew from the Black Saturday tragedy and the force that razed the landscape.The pictures originally appeared in Gippsland Medicine,the magazine of the Gippsland Medical School.

Other bushfire stories

Other bushfire stories

orange sunOne of the lucky ones.
It took five firefighters seven hours to defend the home of Professor Debra Nestel.

mairi-roseTen carloads for the animals
A decision to donate blankets took on a life of its own for this volunteer.

Alex with truckInto the fire
The support of his Department and the Faculty meant that this CFA volunteer could take time off to fight the inferno.