Home' Defence Magazine : Issue 2 2009 Contents 22
s psychologists, social workers
and counsellors packed relief
centres to help hundreds of
traumatised Black saturday
victims, a group from the
army’s 1st Psychology unit,
with help from the 2nd Health support
Battalion (2HsB), ventured out to
make the first contact with those yet
to leave their towns.
Major (MAJ) Nick Wallace, a senior
psychologist within the Unit, oversaw the effort
and said the team provided a unique contribution
to the wider bushfire relief.
“There were hundreds of people out there
who were traumatised about what was going on,
people who hadn’t had any contact with the civil
authorities, and people who hadn’t seen a firefighter
since the day of the fires,” MAJ Wallace said.
“We had vehicles, we had rations, we had
military gear, and we could easily get out there,
which is something a lot of the civilian support
services weren’t able to do.”
Drawing on experiences from work done after
the Port Arthur massacre and Sea King accident,
as well as extensive psychological support to
operations as part of their primary role within the
ADF, the team spent two weeks systematically
knocking on doors, offering vital psychological
“first aid” to hundreds.
“We visited the houses that were left
standing to talk with people about their
experiences, while offering coping strategies, as
well as helping them normalise their reactions
to what was such as an extraordinary situation,”
MAJ Wallace said.
After making contact with fire victims, Unit
members would record their details and, where
required, link people in with the local mental
health resources for longer term support.
As night fell, residents would concentrate on
dinner, family and rest, but for the 1st Psychology
Unit, work continued well into the night with
more coordination, planning, and liaison, as well
as being ready and available for any emergency
call outs, including any ADF personnel who were
affected by the loss of friends or family.
Captain (CAPT) Dave Anthony, a psychologist
within the Unit, was among those walking door-
to-door and said the experience is one he will
“It was hard to describe,” CAPT Anthony
said. “Probably unbelievable is a word that comes
“Going up there and seeing the devastation
in all directions, no matter where you looked, was
really hard to fathom.
“You would have moments where you’d think
how did people survive this thing? And how did
they manage to save their houses, but at the same
thinking how easy it was to lose your life up there.
There didn’t seem to be any method to it.”
CAPT Anthony said the community response
was excellent, even after initial thoughts of there
being some resistance.
“We thought that some people may not have
felt comfortable having a chat with someone who
works in mental health, or someone wearing a
uniform,” CAPT Anthony said.
“But everyone was so open to have a chat,
share their experiences, and talk about what they
had done to help themselves move on.
“Professionally it was very a good opportunity
to develop those critical incident skills while
working with people who have been through
something so traumatic and massive.”
By Jack Foster
Established in 1963, 1st Psychology Unit is one
of the oldest units of 17 Brigade.
The role of 1st Psychology Unit is to provide
psychological support to land-based force
elements during joint, combined and whole of
They have provided psychological support to
deployed personnel since soldiers served in
Vietnam. These include personnel deployed
to Somalia, Rwanda, Bougainville, East Timor,
Diego Garcia, Kyrgyzstan, Afghanistan,
Solomon Islands, Middle East Area of
Operations and Sumatra.
In 2006 unit members were deployed to
Operations Catalyst, Slipper, Pakistan Assist,
Astute, Anode and Ramp. It has provided pre
and post operational support to members of
Operations Azure, Mazurka and Paladin.
You would have moments
where you’d think how did
people survive this thing?
And how did they manage
to save their houses, but at
the same time thinking how
easy it was to lose your life
up there. There didn’t seem
to be any method to it
- Captain Dave Anthony,
a psychologist with 1st Psychology Unit.
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