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BLOG: Reflections in the field #2

The PS Centre has asked Jolie Wills, Psychosocial Knowledge Sharing and Research Advisor for New Zealand Red Cross, to share her experiences in and impressions of psychosocial recovery work with the readers of the PS Centre’s website.

Rejuvenating eucalypts – an analogy for human recovery?

No reading and research can ever prepare you for the real-life, long-term personal ramifications of a disaster. I have researched, read and heard a great deal about the communities impacted by the Black Saturday bushfires in Victoria, Australia. However, on my Winston Churchill Fellowship-sponsored visits to Kinglake, Toolangi and Strathewen in May 2014, it really hit home that there is no substitute for meeting locals, hearing their personal accounts, seeing the blackened (now rejuvenating) gums as far as the eye can see and visiting the small, close-knit communities. I feel honoured to have been entrusted with these stories and grateful to have been received with such openness and genuine warmth. I am much richer for it.

The capacity for the Australian eucalypt (gum) tree to revive itself from such devastation is too astounding to fully comprehend. Gum trees explode when their natural oils ignite and the bushfires burn with an intensity like that of melting steel. How then do eucalypts survive this onslaught only to sprout new leaves and regenerate?

Rather than smoulder to ash, eucalypts are designed to rejuvenate. The stages of rejuvenation vary and can include an early proliferation of an iridescent moss before the leaves appear. Whilst the tree will forever carry indelible signs of the event, its capacity to renew and grow is astonishing.
Seeing the blackened trunks alongside branches sprouting new growth connotes powerful imagery akin to human recovery.

As local residents attest, witnessing the gums’ renewal has brought solace and hope to many, while for others it is a lonely reminder that the world moves on at a pace which threatens to leave them behind. Recovery occurs in the physical environment around us, whether it be the renewal of flora or erection of buildings, but when social and psychological recovery occurs at a different pace, the world can feel off kilter.

So yes perhaps the renewal of the eucalypt is an analogy for recovery but no set trajectory or pace can be imposed on the widely varying and individual human experience of recovery. This is a reminder that respect for and consideration of the multiplicity of human recovery trajectories is vitally important, along with consideration for those who may be feeling left behind.

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