Engaging with the home-in-ruins: memory, temporality and the unmaking of home after fire

Publication Name

Social and Cultural Geography


In the aftermath of a firestorm, many survivors will spend time with the ruins of their homes, fossicking through the rubble or simply being present with the transformed space. Through a series of oral history interviews with survivors of the 2003 Canberra firestorm in the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), this paper investigates ruined homes as spaces imbued with memory–of the fire itself, of life before the fires, and of a once imagined future. By examining the first hours and days after the firestorm, we explore the complex temporalities and spatial meanings at play in spaces that are simultaneously understood as both home and ruins. We argue that the unmaking of home by fire is a gradual process. In resistance to the rapid destruction of fire, and before the clearing of ruins by demolition crews, many firestorm survivors enact a slow and embodied process of unmaking. This enactment allows both a coming to terms with the fire’s material impacts and a careful engagement with the space’s mnemonic resonances. It provides important lessons for a 21st century where more frequent and intense disasters will continue to result in engagement with home-in-ruins.

Open Access Status

This publication is not available as open access



Link to publisher version (DOI)