Harkaway Primary School awarded for fire safety program

Member News image Harkaway Primary School students learning about fire behaviour


Harkaway Primary School has been honoured for its dedication to fire education with a national award.


The primary school, in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, received the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience Resilient Australia Award for a project it created to help kids get involved in helping their communities prepare for natural hazards. 

Part of the project was to set up a bushfire safety committee to develop ways to better prepare the school and broader community for bushfire.  

Bushfire Safety Committee member and grade six student Caleb said he was excited to win the award and that the best thing he had learned from the program was the importance of being prepared. 

“If your house isn’t prepared or you don’t have a plan, your whole house can get destroyed very quickly,” Caleb said. 

“I hope other people learn that bushfires are unpredictable and that you should always have a plan for if a bushfire is nearby, or even if it’s far away – you still need to be ready to act.” 

Another member of the Bushfire Safety Committee, grade six student Natasha, said it was nice to teach others about bushfire safety. 

“As we teach our community what to do during a bushfire, we learn more ourselves. But I truly think the best thing we've learned is that Harkaway kids can also make a difference. We’re just 11 and 12-year-olds and we made a difference, we told our community what to do during a bushfire and I think that’s the best thing that we’ve all learned,” Natasha said. 

“I hope people learn that kids can teach kids, kids should have an opinion on the policies that will affect them, and I also hope that our communities and everyone else knows what to do in a bushfire and feels safe.” 

The Bushfire Safety Committee was borne from a research project led by Dr Briony Towers from Natural Hazards Research Australia. Dr Towers’ work with the school, which has been ongoing for 10 years, came about after the 2009 fires. 

With help from the local CFA brigade and CFA staff, Dr Towers worked with the students to help them better understand fire as a whole, their own fire risk and how they can teach others about key information in this space. 

“On Black Saturday, the fires came very close to the school,” Dr Towers said. 

“As a result, there had been a dramatic reduction in enrolments at the school due to parents being really concerned about what would happen if a bushfire occurred when the children were at school. 

“The school wanted to take a proactive approach to making sure their emergency management plan was very robust, and they wanted to involve the students in that and be able to reassure parents that if a bushfire did happen on a school day that the school community would be safe.

“We really wanted to engage schools in a more participatory way in research and work more collaboratively with schools to identify effective approaches. 

The research was completed in 2021, but Harkaway students and staff have continued to collaborate on the development of a bushfire education program funded by Natural Hazards Research Australia, CFA and the Department of Energy, Environment and Climate Action, as part of the Victorian Government’s Safer Together initiative.  

“I think the story behind the school winning the award is also just a really valuable learning piece, because I think it communicates to other schools and other organisations that good things do take time, and it's worth investing that time and effort and energy in building those trusted relationships,” Dr Towers said.  

Caleb said he was excited to win the award. 

Winning this award was a huge honour and, in my opinion, would not have been possible without Captain Neil from CFA, Dr Briony and all the previous bushfire safety committees at the school as well as all the other experts that have helped us.” 

For Natasha, winning the award is part of a bigger picture. 

“Winning the award means we have helped people, and to me that means heaps more than a glass trophy and a certificate.” 

The Awards celebrate and promote initiatives that build whole of community resilience to disasters and emergencies around Australia.  


Submitted by CFA Media