Day 1, A river runs through it

Its an early morning start, but it’s a beautiful morning here in Meanjin. The day starts with breakfast overlooking the Brisbane River, calm and serene, meandering its way through downtown. Its easy to forget, and often with floods their impacts are easily hidden. Deloittes Australia were hosting a discussion on how government’s can make infrastructure resilient. Looking out the river I can’t help but think of Sean O’Boyle’s magnificent River Symphony, while being an ode to the rivers of the world was composed to be played outdoors on the Brisbane River.

The panel of Professor Mary Hussey, Brendan Moon, and Tayanah O’Donnell, moderated by Andrew Colvin both considered and posed questions around disaster resilient infrastructure. What was really pleasing about the discussion was there was hardly a mention of concrete and lifelines, and focused more on systemic issues, recognising community expectations have shifted dramatically over the past decade, that green infrastructure can produce the co-benefits that grey infrastructure can bring, with a dash of High Vis, and recognition that we need to become comfortable with being uncomfortable where complex and cascading events become the norm, and perhaps embedding First Nations practice and control of decision, and taking a wellbeing approach is paramount. I made the reflection that still many of our decisions, be it about disaster risk reduction or climate change adaptation are made outside of people’s personal and community narratives, and this is often why we fail to understand expectations, or get action. My favourite comment was a description of fragmented funding approaches as having to get up to the toilet every 3 ½ minutes.

The opening ceremony was a terrific balance of formal speech, traditional welcome and messaging, performance from the Australian Girls Choir. It did make me reflect, though we still have a long way to go to remove the term natural disaster from the vernacular, with repeated references to it. Sitting here looking at the river with a city problem, as Margaret Cook describes it, these things are anything but natural. Sure the the stuff that falls from the sky might be natural processes (although human induced climate change has altered that), but when it hits the ground, it is the legacy of decisions taken to build in places, pave large swathes of ground, clear vegetation etc over time (and is still happen)  are human decisions. Anything but natural.

My highlight is Chris Quin’s highlight of Maria Antonia Loyzaga from the Philippines asking why we don’t have an IPCC process for disaster risk reduction. An IPDRR, as Chris calls it would be a critical instrument to help us make risk informed decisions. Much of the data, particularly in Australia is either not collected, or not freely available. We do not have an evidence informed publicly available picture of disaster risk that can help us all make decisions about risk. Surprising really, when we are often quick to blame people for living where they live

I managed not to get to some of the sessions that I wanted to get to, mainly because I stopped every 5 metres to say hello to someone I hadn’t seen for years. This is the best part of these events, having solved a couple of challenges with these conversations, and some commitments to new work. But I also found at the end of the day, I’m not “match fit” for conferences. There was certainly sensory overload, with both the content, and the meeting of people. Still, this is what I love.

The day before, I was fortunate enough to be invited to a networking lunch hosted by the University of Sydney, Queenslanders with Disability Network, CBM and People with Disability Australia, which showcased the extraordinary work that has been done to develop a person centred approach to reducing disaster risk for people with a disability. It was a privilege to be there. I was also fortunate to be part of a team that showcase our own work to our Red Cross and Red Crescent partners across the region.

Our volunteers have been helping people find their way around the conference, and they have been absolutely awesome, just having the right amount of presence and knowledge to help people out. This is what they do in disasters, be there, know where to go, be supportive, point people in the right direction. It’s a skill, like holding a fire hose or steering a flood boat, and is equally impactful.

My favourite moment was talking with a colleague from another agency who has had a bunch of challenges getting the things she’s been doing to happen. We were talking about how Trauma Ted, our mascot had been accredited for the conference and would put in an appearance. My colleague said, I could do with a hug from trauma ted. Lo and behold, around the corner appears Trauma Ted. Magic Happens.

I walk back across the river, tired, but reflecting on rivers. In Sendai there was a river, and there were events on both sides of the river. Formal events on one side, informal on the other side. A long standing colleague, and all round great guy Tony Jarrett immersed himself in the informal events in Sendai. We weren’t able to meet up, as it felt like the river divided us. I was so happy when the first person I met this morning was Tony Jarrett, still immersing himself in the rich and diverse content that is disaster risk reduction.

This recording of River Symphony also has William Barton, the digeridoo master spectacular playing in Sean O Boyle’s Concerto for Digeridoo

One thought on “Day 1, A river runs through it

  1. Great read! Good to know there are people thinking hard and working on these important issues across the country. We focus on the work we have in front of us and can easily forget we are part of a vast network of interlinked activity.

    Liked by 1 person

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