Floods, Fires and Viruses: Indigenous Peoples Governing Disaster Risks and Recovery

Overview of Issues

The severity and duration of the Pandemic, alongside recent bushfires and floods in Australia, combined with the impacts of ever-present climate change and economic stress continue to test individuals, organisations and communities in unexpected ways. Internationally and in Australia, Indigenous peoples are disproportionately affected by such disasters, which exacerbate pre-existing structural inequalities and discrimination.

With government funding, essential services, food, vaccines and critical support being poorly coordinated and sometimes entirely absent during these unfolding disasters, Indigenous communities and their own local organisations have taken on the job of governing the risks, impacts and recovery efforts of simultaneous disasters.

And yet we know little about how they have been going about this vital work.

CAEPR and AIGI have been working with organisations and community members on how they have been governing the pandemic. The research concluded that there is a pre-existing Indigenous capability for ‘adaptive self-determination’ in Indigenous organisations and communities, which enabled them to collectively address the pandemic’s multiple impacts on their families. Similar stories emerged from research into the Black Summer Bushfires, and resonate with stories coming out of the floods. There is much that governments, emergency services, industry and the public can learn from how Indigenous peoples are engaged in governing the multiple threats of disasters in Australia.

The senior Indigenous speakers will share their insights into:
  • Their experiences of disaster risks, impacts and recovery
  • How Indigenous organisations and communities have been governing these disasters
  • The roles their local organisations, networks and alliances are playing, on the ground, to help govern the changing impacts of disasters
  • The uses of digital technology and social media in times of disasters to communicate with community and others
  • Examples of innovative solutions and Indigenous-led actions during disasters
  • Recommendations for policy, funding and practice
  • What has worked well, and where are the gaps and obstacles?
  • Insights and recommendations that can be identified from the Indigenous experience of governing disasters


About the Speakers


Bhiamie Williamson is a Euahlayi man from northwest NSW and a Research Associate and PhD Candidate in CAEPR at the Australian National University. Bhiamie’s expertise includes cultural land management, cultural burning and the impacts of disasters on Indigenous peoples. He has a Masters of Indigenous Governance from the University of Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.
Wayne McDonald is a Yamaji Southern Nation traditional Owner through his mother’s language group ties, he is also a Yued member to the South through his father’s connections. In March 2020 Wayne was appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) for Bundiyarra Aboriginal Community Aboriginal Corporation (BACAC) in Geraldton. For the previous two years, he had been a Bundiyarra Board Director. Wayne was raised by his parents in Geraldton and has a thorough knowledge of regional communities and the people living in the region. He also has over 30 years’ experience working in Aboriginal Affairs with State and Federal Governments and Aboriginal organisations. Wayne is a founding member of the Midwest Aboriginal Organisations Alliance (MAOA) which is a peak group of Aboriginal Corporations who met frequently to support each other and community members in the Midwest, Murchison regions during the Covid Pandemic.

Alira Tufui  is a Gomeroi Yinarr from Narrabri North Western NSW. Currently working at AbSec- NSW Child, Family and Community Peak Aboriginal Corporation, in the role of Director, Sector Operations. Outside of her professional role, Alira is also Chairperson of Gomeroi Narrabri Aboriginal Corporation and Non-Executive Director, Narrabri Gomeroi Charitable Trust. Alira’s passion lies with working to support and grow the Aboriginal Community Controlled sector and creating a platform for change and a shift in the way we work collaboratively and in meaningful partnerships grass-roots mob to strengthen Nation building and self-determination for First Nations people and communities. 



Date & time

Wed 20 Jul 2022, 12–1pm




Bhiamie Williamson
Wayne McDonald
Alira Tufui



Updated:  12 August 2022/Responsible Officer:  Centre Director/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications