Dr Peter Stanley
Centre for Historical Research,
National Museum of Australia
Time: 4.15-5.30pm, Wednesday 31 March 2010
McDonald Room, Menzies Library
Australian National University
On 7 February 2009 bushfires devastated large parts of rural Victoria, eventually killing 173 people and burning over 45 square kilometres of bush and farmland and 2000 buildings. Among the many places affected was the small ‘locality’ of Steels Creek, home to about 200 people living around a valley 10 kilometres north of Yarra Glen and 5 km south-east of Kinglake. Steels Creek lost ten people killed and over 50 dwellings destroyed when the fire roared out of the Kinglake National Park late on the afternoon of Black Saturday.
In the fire’s aftermath leaders of the local community wisely decided that they needed more than help repairing fences. They invited historian Tom Griffiths to consider framing a project involving historians helping to understand what had happened. Tom invited the National Museum to join him and soon enough I became part of a small team (including Tom and film-maker Moira Fahy), the Victorian Bushfire Project.
As a part of this project I am now writing a book, Black Saturday at Steels Creek: Fire and an Australian Community, due to be published by Scribe in 2012, which will trace what happened and reflect on how people experienced this traumatic event. Through this study we might better understand the place and its people, and even larger issues about fire and ‘community’ in modern rural Australia.
In this paper, about six months after starting serious work, I want to discuss how I’m approaching a venture new in subject matter but somewhat familiar in tone and methodology. I’ll discuss the ways I’m approaching this very recent event, and how I’m developing a relationship with those who lived through the fire in order to document and interpret their experience. I look forward to discussing many of the decisions and questions I’m facing.
Dr Peter Stanley is the inaugural Head of the Centre for Historical Research at the National Museum of Australia, where he has worked since 2007. Peter has published over twenty books, mainly in the field of military social history, such as Tarakan: an Australian Tragedy, White Mutiny: British Military Culture in India 1825-75 (based on his 1993 ANU PhD), For Fear of Pain: British Surgery 1790-1850, and in 2009 Men of Mont St Quentin and Commando to Colditz. His next book (to be published in August) will be Bad Characters: Sex, Crime, Mutiny and Murder in the Great War. A common theme linking his books is the idea of people in extreme situations.