Sparsely settled regions of northern Australia are extremely vulnerable to a range of annual natural hazard impacts, including those from cyclones, flooding and extensive fires. Outside of large towns, the majority of the population is Indigenous with limited access to infrastructure, or readily available institutional support for dealing with bushfires and natural hazards (BNH). Low population densities and poor communications mean that even relatively large communities have almost no formal emergency management capacity.
Natural hazards are being amplified by climate change, with likely more and bigger fires, on-going sea level rise, potentially fewer but more destructive cyclones, and more days of severe heat stress, with consequent risks to economic productivity, infrastructure and human health and wellbeing. Improving community resilience to bushfire and natural hazards in the north is an evident priority and challenge; approaches that might apply in other regions of Australia are unlikely to work in the unique institutional, infrastructural, demographic, ecological and climatic contexts of the northern third of the continent.
This paper explores potential pathways to improve community preparedness, response and recovery capabilities in remote Indigenous communities, and broader implications for public policy and government agencies in northern Australia, with reference to the research portfolio being developed in the northern hub of the Bushfire and Natural Hazards CRC.