Gretel Evans

Gretel Evans, ‘Through Fire and Flood: Migrant Memories of Displacement and Belonging in Australia’ (PhD in History, 2020)

Natural disasters are a significant feature of the Australian environment. In a country with a rich history of immigration, it is therefore surprising that historians have not yet examined the specific challenges faced by immigrants within this hazardous environment. This thesis examines migrants’ memories and experiences of bushfires and floods in Australia. Drawing on oral history interviews and regional case studies, this thesis explores the entanglement of migration and natural disaster in Australia and in the lives of migrants. Oral history interviews with migrants who have experienced bushfires in Victoria or floods in Maitland, New South Wales, are at the heart of this study. This thesis contributes to scholarship in three distinct fields – migration and environmental history, and disaster studies – and brings them together through an examination of migrants’ memories of bushfires and floods in Australia. Although traumatic experiences, displacement, and a changed and challenged sense of home, community and attachment to place and environment are common themes of both migrants and survivors of fire and flood, rarely have the similarities between these experiences been noted. This thesis is not a history of natural disasters in Australia, nor a retelling of a history of immigration to Australia, but an exploration of experiences of ‘double displacement’. This thesis argues that migrants’ recollections reveal how their burgeoning sense of home, community and attachment to place and environment was challenged by natural disasters. It highlights how their experience of ‘double displacement’ contributed to a new sense of home and belonging in a natural disaster-prone country.

Supervisors: Associate Professor Sara Wills, Dr Alessandro Antonello