Surviving Random Acts of Nature and Man

Surviving Random Acts of Nature and Man

Julianne Shultz (ed.)

Griffith University Press, $27.95

It can be said that disasters produce a lot of writings — warning and preparatory — by definition always inadequate and incomplete. If we could cover all aspects and prepare fully it wouldn’t be a disaster, just an expected incident.

In the active (or heroic) phase we have orders, requests and news coverage. Nic Low, writing about the Christchurch earthquake, said, “For the first few hours the reporting was urgent and upset. It was hastily typed, hand held, full of mistakes. Then the postings began to resemble news items, giving overviews and summaries. The press releases arrived. The carefully crafted statements of politicians and officials.”

In the follow-up we get those emotive and invasive interviews and reports, often designed to spectacularise the incident and human response.

Post incident we often get locally-produced reports and reflections from those affected, designed to assist in the recovery process. Often these are very helpful and the most informative.

They are countered by consultations, inquiries and reviews, usually written in “officialise” with a variety of purposes and presuppositions. Some contain helpful comments and recommendations, which are often tabled in a round receptacle — a pity because it is what the active phase respondents have been saying for years.

Later again we get stories, books and even movies made of the events; for example, Tracy about Darwin and The Mountain about Thredbo.

Surviving Random Acts of Nature and Man does not conform to any of these. It is an edited compilation of writings, reflections, reports, stories, photos and poetry — factual and fictional.

The incidents survived are varied: fires, floods, wars, socio-political acts (systemised child abuse and stolen children), and personal trauma (civilians in war and death of an unborn child).

The 31 items in a range of genres are all considered, well thought through and well written reflections on the theme.

There are summary reports of incidents, reviews of facts and time lines, personal reflections from participants, a critical review of media participation and stories (fiction based on fact) from victims.

To some I responded “yes, Yes, YES!” To others, “That’s an interesting perspective.” For one or two I had to put the book down, break out the tissues and have a cuppa before I could continue reading.

Another disaster I had never even heard about … but what those people went through, are going through!

This is the first Griffith Review I have encountered. I chose it from the title because of my interest in disaster response and recovery. The quality, diversity and variety of articles would make it worthwhile subscribing to this quarterly publication.

Robert Dummermuth



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