TV Premiere: “Afterburn” Documentary on Steels Creek after Black Saturday


Monday 8.30 pm 11 July & Sunday 5.30 pm 24 July 2016

It was the most lethal firestorm in Australia’s history and its devastation is still being felt.

‘Afterburn: In the Tiger’s Jaws”, is a feature documentary that follows the long-story of recovery for three families, in a small Victorian community in the aftermath of 2009’s devastating Black Saturday firestorm as they struggle to deal with a crisis and its long shadow.

As we face the eight-year anniversary of the Black Saturday firestorm and devastating weather events across the globe; AFTERBURN’s message could not be more relevant. In this film, we uncover the devastating cost of natural disasters to communities, families and individuals as Dr. Rob Gordon, a leading trauma and disaster specialist reveals how powerfully the undiagnosed symptoms of traumatic brain injury continues to erode relationships, families and lives long after the event; and not just in this generation but into the next and the next.

AFTERBURN is the result of a five-year collaboration with the people of Steels Creek who survived the firestorm and chose to rebuild their lives and community in a place where they now know a lethal, devastating, unstoppable fire will visit them again.

In the wake of these fires, Steels Creek, was a community in crisis and as they began the long task of rebuilding, this community approached a trauma specialist, historians and a filmmaker (who had previously captured survivor stories from the 1939 Black Friday firestorm), to help them understand the perils of recovery, history and location following the worst bushfire disaster in Australia since 1939. They wanted to know how to learn to live with the legacy of fire and how to recover from the trauma, anxiety and night terrors affecting their children and partners.

During interviews in 2003 for her ABC and Film Victoria documentary on the 1939 Victorian bushfires; filmmaker Fahy encountered shocking evidence of survivors in their eighties and nineties still horribly crippled by trauma they had suffered during the event nearly sixty-five years earlier. For many this was the first time they had shared the horror of what had happened to them and given voice to the cauterizing affect trauma had had on their lives.

This experience stayed with her and created a specific focus for Fahy in this film in exploring the anatomy of traumatic brain injury with these families. How could these three families in 2009 do things differently and manage their recovery in such a way as to insure a better future than the survivors from the 1939 Victorian bushfires?

As the film opens, eminent social and military historian Dr. Peter Stanley, maps the path of the Kilmore East fire from its ignition point to the time, over five hours later, when it explodes out of the Kinglake National Park and destroys the community of Steels Creek. As the fire arrives, the three families weave their own terrifying recollections into Stanley’s account as he recreates the one and a half hours that would forever change their lives.

While Dr. Stanley speaks to the present, Dr. Tom Griffiths, a social and environmental historian, speaks to the past and the future. He reminds us that fire, like flood, always returns to the same place and that the great mountain monarchs in the national parks surrounding Steels Creek were waiting for just this day to fulfill their destiny.

Catastrophic events such as Black Saturday fracture communities and individuals. People lose a sense of their own identity and safety. Who are they now in their borrowed clothes standing amongst the ruins of all they have lost? And when the news cameras, relief centres and recovery and reconstruction authorities have packed up and left, how do they prepare for the long-story of recovery? How do they pull together, not fall apart?

‘Afterburn’ is the powerful and moving story of three families in one small community decimated by the Black Saturday firestorm who have to do just that but they don’t have to do it alone. This community, Steels Creek, had the foresight, courage perhaps, to ask for help.

‘Afterburn: In the Tiger’s Jaws’ is the final piece of the Victorian Bushfire Research Project, a project that seeks to address the gap in understanding of the social, cultural and ecological dimensions of fire experience while also looking at the long-term impact of trauma on these communities.

Moira Fahy’s Bio

Moira Fahy is an award-winning, independent film producer, director and scriptwriter. Moira has produced five documentaries on the impact of natural disasters in Australia. She is the producer, writer and director of the ABC and Film Victoria documentary on the 1939 Black Friday fires which was a finalist in the 2004 AIMIA Awards, won the Victorian Fire Awareness Community Service Award for Excellence and an ATOM Award in 2004 for Best Documentary.

Her Black Friday documentary was also cited in the 2004 COAG Report to the Federal Government on Bushfire Mitigation & Management as a key recommendation for the recovery of bushfire affected communities. Moira Fahy was also invited to speak at the Victorian Royal Commission into the Black Saturday bushfires in 2009.

In an excerpt from Professor of History, ANU, Dr Tom Griffiths’, invited evidence to the Royal Commission into the Black Saturday Bushfires, he noted that her work was:

“An important example of collaborative community historical scholarship that analyses both the experience and memory of fires…”