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16th February 2023 Military And Emergency Services Health

The impacts of disasters and trauma on children highlighted on Ash Wednesday anniversary


The longest follow-up study in the world to investigate the impacts of disasters and trauma on children is taking place in South Australia on the 40th anniversary of the Ash Wednesday bushfires.

Military and Emergency Services Health Australia (MESHA) – a charity of The Hospital Research Foundation Group, and The University of Adelaide are calling for anyone who attended eight primary schools in the state’s southeast in 1983 to participate.

The study has been following the group at two-year, 20-year and 28-year intervals. Now, the 40-year follow-up makes it the longest study in the world to examine what impacts a disaster has on the health and wellbeing of children throughout their lifetime.

On 16 February 1983, the Ash Wednesday bushfires swept across South Australia and Victoria, killing 75 people and destroying more than 3000 buildings.

Associate Professor Miranda Van Hooff, Executive Director of MESHA and Director of Research at the University of Adelaide’s Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies, said many of the children affected by the bushfires would now be parents themselves, so the intergenerational impacts of childhood trauma will be a unique feature of this year’s study.

“The aim of this study is to investigate the long-term health and wellbeing of children who grew up in the southeast of South Australia and were affected by the Ash Wednesday bushfires,” Associate Professor Van Hoof said.

“The long-term impacts of disaster exposure are still largely unknown, and we aim to use our findings to guide interventions for future victims of disasters and try to prevent psychological problems at an earlier age.

“With many of the participants now parents themselves, plus the recent 2019/20 bushfires likely being a trigger for trauma, we will also be looking at the intergenerational impacts of childhood trauma.”

Associate Professor Van Hooff said many participants may have forgotten they were involved in the original studies, considering it has been 12 years since the group was last contacted.

She asked for anyone who attended the following schools in 1983, to please contact her research team on (08) 7002 0880 or [email protected]  

  • Tarpeena Primary School
  • Mt Burr Primary school
  • Nangwarry Primary School
  • Penola Primary School
  • Naracoorte Primary School
  • Naracoorte South Primary School
  • Kangaroo Inn Area School
  • Kalangadoo Primary School

Participants will be asked to do an online survey which includes questions relating to physical and mental health, quality of life, relationships, as well as any stressful life events they may have experienced in their lives.

“Six of the schools were directly impacted by the fires, while two of them are used as control groups,” Associate Professor Van Hooff said.

“We are still looking for more than 600 people who participated in the study in earlier phases, so anyone who attended these schools are encouraged to contact us.”