Hawke-Hardy Research Project: Charismatic Disasters: a South Australian case study

A collaboration between the Barbara Hardy Institute and the Hawke Research Institute to investigate Charismatic Disasters.

What do pandas and meerkats have in common with fire and floods? Could reptiles be compared with obesity? Winners of the inaugural collaborative grant from the Barbara Hardy and Hawke Research Institutes are currently seeking answers to these questions by investigating why certain disasters, like certain animals, seem to be magnets for people, while other disasters fail to sustain public attention. For example, the 2009 Black Saturday Bushfires in Victoria saw thousands of people from across the country rally to help victims, and the Red Cross alone reported 1600 volunteers helped in relief centres in the immediate aftermath while an additional 400 volunteers assisted with victims post fire.  Similarly, the 2010 – 2011 Queensland floods saw so many volunteers galvanised to action that there were traffic problems in Brisbane.  In contrast to these dramatic incidents, other disasters fail to excite the media or attract national attention. For example, despite the fact that 61.4% of adult population and 24.9% of our youth are currently classified as over-weight or obese many of us claim that we are too busy to engage in the healthy lifestyle habits that will improve our health and happiness, let alone that of our children. Has the advent of computers, iphones and home entertainment units glued us to the screen and placed us under ‘house arrest’? Could it be that one of the greatest disasters facing Australians relates to the social and health issues arising from our increasingly sedentary life styles?

Charismatic Disasters is an exciting new project that has attracted over $38K from the Hawke Research Institute and the Barbara Hardy Institute and will be led by Dr Delene Weber from the School of Natural and Built Environments and Dr Kiera Lindsey, from the David Uniapon College for Indigenous Education and Research (DUCIER). Lindsey and Weber will launch the first phase of this project via a citizen research project called Operation Outdoors that will be hosted by ABC radio to better understand how South Australians relate to ‘the great outdoors’. The program will commence on the first day of Spring – 1 September – and will feature UniSA presenters Kiera Lindsey and BHI director Chris Daniels, together with ABC personalities Sonya Feldhoff and Ian Hensche, who will invite listeners to share their best and worst experiences on air and via a web-based survey.

The project will gather insights regarding environmental and civic engagement and also use an innovative public participation GIS platform to explore people’s attachment to particular landscapes, as well as the community spirit, mental health and physical fitness benefits they derive from such environments. The creation of a socio-cultural GIS layer will also allow researchers to interrogate data in conjunction with existing geophyscial and demographic data and “hotspots” of opportunity. By encouraging collaboration between researchers from science and the humanities, and building an innovative model concerned with public engagement, this exciting new grant promises to contribute to our understanding of how Australians relate to the outdoors and respond to disasters. In so doing, UniSA’s Charismatic Disasters project hopes to make a distinctive contribution to the creation of connected and resilient communities in Australia.

Fire Fighters work to put out fireBush fireFire Fighter

This merit-selected Hawke-Hardy Project is co-funded by the Barbara Hardy Institute and Hawke Research Institute.

For further information, please contact Hawke-Hardy Project leaders Delene Weber (Barbara Hardy Institute) or Kiera Lindsey (Hawke Research Institute).

Areas of study and research

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