Hundreds of people headed to the Exhibition Buildings on Monday evening this week. Ten years on the Victorian Government was holding a ceremony to honour the victims and survivors of the 2009 bushfires. I took away three lessons for a great ceremony.

Yes, as with the 2009 ceremony the organisers got this one right. People left satisfied, heartened, and of course sad. A woman I spoke to said ‘That hit exactly the right note’.

Lessons from this ceremony

  1. No one is more important than those who have lost beloved people. The ceremony needs to put them front of mind. The speakers’ role is to honour and remind. Words drawn from experience, from the heart do just this. The Governor Her Excellency the Hon. Linda Dessau AC had met with many survivors. Dr Kathy Rowe had lost her husband in the fires. Their opening words set the tone for the rest of the event.
  2. The MC or celebrant knows it’s not their ceremony. MC Craig Willis was clear, straightforward and well briefed. He had a chair well to the side of the stage where he sat during the majority of the proceedings. This to me is the sign of a quality MC or celebrant at a ceremony.
  3. A well balanced program with the right mix of speakers, music and reflection. The number of leaders at the commemoration was impressive. But the voice of the community from Jane Hayward, Principal of Strathewan Primary, was vital. Children came through those fires. Their participation through video footage and in person with their mentor Dave Wandon gave hope and inspiration for the future. CFA Chief Officer, Steve Warrington, brought the gravitas of being able to look back on the experience of the fires and forward based on its lessons. The Premier, Daniel Andrews and the Leader of the Opposition, Michael O’Brien, both read poems which provided food for thought.

I felt that the Didgeridoo by Gnarnayarrahe Waitairie and his collaborator made the ceremony, in the way their sounds seemed to capture a spiritual and heartfelt response from the whole country to the tragedy. Talking to a woman I’d never met as we left she agreed, saying ‘It was as if they were whispering to everyone saying “it’s going to be okay.”’