Resilience building is becoming a unifying idea in dealing with Australia's growing disaster risks. Between climate change, the rapid pace of urbanisation, growing social inequalities, weakening institutions, and the reality of global pandemics, these risks can be natural, economic and human-induced.
As such, there is a growing focus for educational, governmental and private organisations to build resilience to deal with disruptions and catastrophes.
We are seeing this first-hand here in our own state with the government creating a dedicated disaster agency, Resilience NSW, headed up by Commissioner Shane Fitzsimmons, who came to national prominence leading our state throughout devastating 2019-2020 bushfire season.
The name of the agency itself points to our approach to dealing with the seemingly ever-present and growing risk of catastrophe: it's not 'Disaster NSW', it's 'Resilience NSW'.
Our idea of resilience is akin to the old saying, "get knocked down seven times, get up eight" - it's humanity's ability to experience and absorb adversity, then recover and adapt in a way that does not compromise your long-term prospects. But that doesn't mean we need to wait for adversity to strike before we start building resilience. Being proactive is key to successful implementation of ideas of resilience. It is a strength we need to be exercising and growing every day.
The first step in building resilience is identifying and understanding risk. Following that, it's about taking simple steps to mitigate the risks by reducing the exposure to hazards and developing capacities to make building resilience more practical.
We then need to accept that our linear thinking is inadequate to address emerging challenges, such as climate change and catastrophic events - 18 months ago, who would have predicted a virus shutting down the entire world? The shock of it all was evidence that our limited acknowledgement of possible future scenarios means we are also limiting our ability to develop the knowledge we need to adapt.
Our idea of resilience is akin to the old saying, "get knocked down seven times, get up eight" - it's humanity's ability to experience and absorb adversity, then recover and adapt
Albert Einstein's quote fits well here: "We cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them." We need multi-disciplinary teams to genuinely collaborate, experiment, scrutinise and solve complex problems.
At the University of Newcastle, we are actively seeking to help build resilience in our regions. Our research project efforts are on display at the moment through our Building Resilience exhibition at the Watt Space Gallery.
The 29 exhibits examine resilience at the individual, community, systems and global levels, with each exhibit addressing at least one United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG). The exhibition builds a compelling narrative on how research, engagement and advocacy can bring resilience to the forefront of policy development and day-to-day living. It examines emerging challenges and our capacity to respond across seven themes: through place and culture, sustainable construction, sustainable living, capacity development, institutions and policy ingenuity, caring for the natural environment, and partnerships. Perhaps most important to note is that resilience is made of ordinary rather than extraordinary processes. It is something we all can - and must - aim to build in advance of the next hardship we will inevitably face.
Going hand-in-hand with the exhibition is the next in the University's Looking Ahead Lecture Series, Building Resilience through sustainable regional development. The lecture includes a keynote address by Commissioner Fitzsimmons. This is a wonderful opportunity to hear his story and gain insights into disaster recovery and building community resilience through the agency he now leads. The lecture will also feature a panel comprising of local experts, convened by Lord Mayor Cr Nuatali Nelmes, asking us to consider how we can overcome challenges by planning for and designing a more resilient society through sustainable development. The exhibition and lecture are our community's chance to understand resilience and its necessity, and which tools we need to build up our own resilience so that when we are knocked down an eighth time, we get up a ninth.
Dr Thayaparan Gajendran is the co-curator of the Building Resilience exhibition and Deputy Head of School - Research (School of Architecture and Built Environment)
- The Building Resilience through sustainable regional development lecture will be held at 7pm on Wednesday, April 21 at the City of Newcastle Concert Hall or online; Register at www.newcastle.edu.au/building-resilience