Australian state and territory fire authorities advise residents to make a decision to prepare, stay and defend their properties from
bushfires or leave well before the fire arrives in their area. The ‘Stay and defend or leave early’ policy is underpinned by strong evidence
that well-prepared houses can be successfully defended and that late evacuation is a dangerous strategy. This paper presents the results of
a study of the policy’s implementation during the 2003 bushfires in North East Victoria and East Gippsland. Results suggest that despite
high levels of awareness and support for the policy, there is some confusion over what it means to ‘stay and defend’ and ‘leave early’.