What do we learn from the Black Saturday bushfire of 2009?

Focus statement

Students revisit the Black Saturday 2009 bushfire as an introduction to learning about bushfires.

Key message

Bushfires are a fact of life in Victoria. Therefore, to improve people's safety and to limit the devastating effects of bushfires, we need to learn how to live more effectively with them.


Introduce the Marysville: From the Ashes video interactive. Explain that the 2009 bushfires in Victoria were the most devastating in our history. Marysville was one of dozens of townships and communities engulfed by the disaster.

The interactive consists of a four-part video account of that day and its aftermath, a series of audio accounts from Marysville residents of their personal experiences and an audio account from Dr Kevin Tolhurst of Melbourne University describing how the disaster unfolded.  

Use the following three extracts to reconnect with the events and effects of the bushfires for all Victorians.

  1. As a class group first listen to Dr Kevin Tolhurst explain the nature of the bushfire in the 'Introduction' section of 'A Disaster Unfolds' audio timeline (2 min 30 secs).
  2. Have the class view the first chapter of 'From the Ashes' (5 min 07 secs), a video presentation which provides a general overview of the events and effects of what happened on Black Saturday 2009.
  3. Finally, have the class listen again to Dr Kevin Tolhurst, this time talking about how we can prepare for living with bushfires in 'The Future' section of 'A Disaster Unfolds' audio timeline (3 min 42 secs)

In a follow up discussion, carefully encourage students to discuss their response to the video, the effect of the images and perhaps their own memories of the event. 

View and listen to the three extracts again. Consider exploring several of the audio personal accounts in the 'Voices from the Inferno' section of the site. Nominate different pairs of students to focus on summarising one of the following aspects:

  • the nature and extent of the destruction caused by the fires
  • the losses and emotions expressed by the people affected by the fires
  • the exceptional features of these fires compared with previous bushfires
  • how well prepared people and firefighters were for these fires
  • what policies and approaches to bushfires were being questioned as a result of the fires.

Draw students' attention to the frequent statements from commentators and observers that Black Saturday was much, much worse than Ash Wednesday in 1983 and that it had been the worst set of conditions in the history of European settlement in Victoria. Ask students what they know about other major bushfires in Victoria to introduce an historical perspective.

Ask students to form small groups and consult the table Bushfires in our history. They might also like to use the following sites:

Ask students to use the information to compare the 2009 fire with Black Thursday 1851 and Ash Wednesday 1983, looking for points of comparison in areas such as time of year, location, causes and consequences, and then present their findings in a table.

Bring groups together to share the results of their comparisons. Ask students to discuss and debate the following questions.

  • Can bushfires be eliminated as a danger to communities in Victoria?
  • If they can't, how can Victorians live better with the threat and reality of bushfires?