Identifying the Hidden Disaster Conference


This Australia-first conference was held in Melbourne on Friday, 9 March 2012 and opened by the Deputy Commissioner of Victorian Police, Tim Cartwright. Keynote speakers were Elaine Enarson, leading International researcher on gender and disaster; Lois Herbert, manager of the Battered Women's Refuge in Christchurch; and Megan Sety from the Australian Domestic and FV Clearinghouse. A highlight of the conference was the first hand and heartrending accounts from two women whose relationships suffered in the aftermath of Black Saturday.

The conference provided a perfect forum for the launch of the first Australian research to examine the impact on relationships after a natural disaster, 'The Way He Tells It', from WHGNE. Issues raised in this research were considered by 12 key players in disaster management in a 'Hypothetical'. The day concluded with five Action Planning Workshops to give delegates the opportunity to discuss the implications of the conference learnings and identify achievable actions.

Download: Identifying the Hidden Disaster Conference Handbook.


Conference Proceedings


The Australian Domestic & Family Violence Clearinghouse, Women's Health Goulburn North East and Women's Health In the North welcomed delegates to the first Australian conference on family violence and natural disasters. 

It was a full program of presentations, speakers, panel discussions and interactive workshops designed to canvass the diverse issues involved in understanding and responding to family violence in the wake of natural disasters.

The goal was to generate dialogue across the diverse sectors that need to work closely together to ensure women's saftety and to provide a springboard for action.

The Conference was opened by Aunty Diane Kerr from the Wurundjeri Tribe, who encouraged delegates to look after themselves in their important work.

A special thank you was exteded to sponsors VicHealth and the Nikolaus Institute of Philanthropy, and the many others who offered their time, expertise and passion to make the collaborative event a success.


timOpening Address

Tim Cartwright has been the Acting Deputy Commissioner (Crime and Operations Support) since July 2011, responsible for the following Departments: Crime, Intelligence and Covert Support, Ethical Standards, Media and Corporate Communications, Forensic Services, and Legal Services. He has executive responsibility for the Victoria Police Violence Against Women and Children strategy, and Information Security.

In 2008, Tim was promoted to Assistant Commissioner, responsible for one of the State’s five Regions. In 2009 he formed and led a team for the realignment of the police Regional boundaries, subsequently taking the lead of the new North West Metro Region in July 2010. Tim holds a Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice, and a Graduate Diploma in Public Policy and Management.

Read the transcription of Tim Cartwright's presentation.


elaineKeynote Address

Women, Disaster and Violence: International Patterns, Responses and Emerging Issues


Personal experience sparked Elaine Enarson's extensive work on gender, vulnerability and community resilience following Hurricane Andrew in 1992. In 1999, Elaine conducted some of the first research to explore the link between domestic violence and natural disasters in the US and Canada. In addition to research publications, she co-edited The Gendered Terrain of Disaster: Through Women's Eyes (1998), Women, Gender and Disaster: Global Issues and Initiatives (2009), and The Women of Katrina: How Gender, Race and Class Matter in an American Disaster (in press) and is now finalising a book on women and disaster in the United States. Elaine speaks widely on the topic and has conducted training on mitigating gender violence in disasters and related subjects.

Elaine is a founding member of the Gender and Disaster Network and of the US-based Gender and Disaster Resilience Alliance and continues to consult with UN agencies on gender-responsive disaster planning. She initiated and directed the development of a FEMA course on social vulnerability, a grassroots risk assessment project with women in the Caribbean, and the electronic Gender and Disaster Sourcebook project. While teaching disaster studies in Brandon University's Department of Applied Disaster and Emergency Studies (Manitoba, Canada), she helped facilitate community resilience workshops and later developed a gender mainstreaming manual for emergency managers and an emergency preparedness workbook for women's organisations.

Currently, she teaches emergency management graduate students on-line for Canadian and US institutions and is developing a new course on Women and Climate Change for the Gender and Women's Studies program at the University of Denver.


helenandsusieLaunch of the Environmental Justice Website


Helen Riseborough, Chief Executive Officer, Women's Health In the North and Susie Reid, Executive Officer, Women's Health Goulburn North East, launched the Environmental Justice Website.


debandclareLaunch of The Way He Tells It 


Debra Parkinson is a social researcher, committed to feminism and social justice. She has worked for Women's Health Goulburn North East (WHAGNE) since 1997, completing research on women leaving violent relationships and partner rape. Debra is currently a PhD candidate (Monash University) researching violence agains women in the aftermath of the Black Saturday bushfires. During 2009-10 Debra worked for the Australian Centre for the Study of Sexual Assault and now works for both Women's Health Goulburn North East and Women's Health In the North.

Claire Zara is a health promotion worker with Women's Health Goulburn North East since 2007. Her background is in journalism, teaching and research. She worked extensively with women and workers on this bushfire report. Claire is passionate about ensuring that women's voices are heard and their experiences and needs incorporated into all levels of society.

The Way He Tells It is the first Australian research to examine the impact on relationships after a natural disaster.


sharonlindaHearing Women's Voices from the Bushfires

Sharon Bourke is a long term resident of Marysville and mother of three children. Following her Black Saturday experiences, her fire fighter husband became reclusive, sometimes violent and eventually left the family. Only much later was he diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD); by then it was too late.

Linda Haggar had been a comedy writer for 20 years until she moved to Kinglake in 2004 for peace and quiet and to be part of a tight community. Linda is a survivor of Black Saturday. That dark day and the anguished recovery that followed was, and still is, her biggest life challenge. She is a mother of three and grandmother to another three, and lived with her partner of 38 years... until the fire came.

They talked about their experience.


loisThe Christchurch Earthquakes - We Are Survivors


Lois Herbert is the Manager of the Battered Women's Refuge in Christchurch, New Zealand, which offers safe accommodation and community services for women and children. In her 10 years with the Battered Women's Refuge in Christchurch, Lois describes 2011 as the most challenging year yet. As a result of the Christchurch earthquakes, the refuge lost the safe house to earthquake damage, was unable to use its offices for a period of time, and staff and volunteers lost family members and close friends in the earthquake. She has a unique perspective on the relationship between natural disasters and family violence. Lois is also a member of the governing board of the national Collective of Independent Women's Refuges in New Zealand.


meganNatural Disasters and Intimate Partner Violence: What the International Research Tells Us


Megan Sety is a social researcher who has worked in public health and social policy development, programming and research in Australia, New Zealand and the US. Through her work at public health departments in the US and NZ, Megan developed skills in emergency risk communication and consequently coordinated the publich health emergency communications during the Wellington regional emergency response to H1N1 influenza (NZ). In her work at a local publich health unit in NZ, she develped a program to address family violence.

Currently, as the Research and Information officer at the Australian Domestic & Family Violence Clearinghouse, Megan conducts research projects and writes papers exploring issues of intemate partner violence, including a thematic review of domestic violence and natural disasters.


View the Hypothetical Discussions:

Hypothetical - Part 1:

Hypothetical - Part 2:

Hypothetical - Part 3:

Action Planning Workshops

Workshop 1: On the ground after a disaster: responding to family violence (Ayfer Berdilek & Rose Marsh)

Workshop 2: How family violence organisations can manage increased demands during and after a disaster (Lois Herbert & Megan Sety)

Workshop 3: Emergency management: planning ahead to reduce gender violence in disasters (Elaine Enarson & Gwynne Brennan)

Workshop 4: Open discussion: share your ideas, questions and feedback about family violence in the wake of natural disasters (Claire Zara & Debra Parkinson)

Workshop 5: Responding to men's violence after disaster (Chris Lamming)

Summary of information from the Action Postcards participants filled in at the Conference here.

Women and Disaster Snapshot Information Sheets

Women and Disaster - Snapshot 1

Relationship violence is a taboo subject. It's always been hard for women to report, but this is taken to a new level after a disaster. Download file.

Gender in Disaster - Snapshot 2

The relevance of gender in disaster risk. There are different vulnerabilities in disaster depending on gender. Download file.

The Hidden Disaster - Snapshot 3

Women's experiences of the Victorian Black Saturday bushfires were researched. These are the findings regarding family violence - in a  nutshell. Download file.

Checklists - Snapshot 4

Checklists to keep women and children safe for Disaster Prevention, Response and Recovery Services. Download file.

What Can We Do


Full References.

Photos from the Conference

To see photos from the Conference click here.

To see photos of the artwork developed at the Conference click here.

Thank You to Our Sponsors

Women's Health In the North, Women's Health Goulburn North East and the Australian Domestic & Family Violence Clearninghouse wish to acknowldge and thank the Conference sponsors: The Nikolaous Institute of Philanthropy Pty Ltd and VicHealth.