“I don’t want anything to do with research, but I will talk to you”

Doing research in the context of disasters


  • Margot Rawsthorne University of Sydney


relationships, history, research, disasters


On the 14th November, 2022 the small village of Eugowra in the Central West of New South Wales was hit by an ‘inland tsunami’ with widespread destruction and the loss of two lives. This small village was the place I was raised and many previous generations of my family had lived. Coincidentally, since 2015 I had been slowly drawn in the world of ‘disaster research’, with a specific focus on the experiences of communities navigating the terrains of disasters. I had heard stories and seen the destruction caused by floods, fires, storms and of course the Covid pandemic. But I had never imagined that my past and my present would collide in such a manner. Some 40% of the homes in Eugowra and all the active businesses were damaged by unprecedented (this type of language seems increasingly wrong) flooding. My initial engagement was as a volunteer, sorting material donations and listening to people still in shock. I wondered though right from the beginning how might my research knowledge of disasters be useful, although aware of its limitations in such a chaotic situation. Over time I realised that research knowledge could be useful in supporting community responses to disasters if it was offered with generosity, caution and humility. Navigating relationships and building trust repeatedly arose as requiring ongoing attention. In this article I aim to explore what there is to learn about disaster research when it becomes personal.


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