5 June 2020

Batemans Bay art initiative gathers Postcards from the Fire

| Elka Wood
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Girl covering face at Malua Bay beach with bushfire in background.

An anonymous entry to Postcards from the Fire, taken on Malua Bay beach on New Year’s Eve. Photo: Supplied.

Creative Arts Batemans Bay (CABBI) has launched a community healing project called Postcards from the Fire, in which anyone affected by the past summer’s bushfires can submit photos and stories.

“Postcards is a virtual gallery on Instagram and Facebook of what the 2019-2020 bushfire season made of our world, as seen through the lenses of our community members,” said CABBI president Robert Creed.

Boy on trampoline watching smoke from approaching bushfire.

Bushfire approaching a property north of Moruya on New Year’s Eve. Photo: Diana D.

Supported by the Commonwealth-funded Supporting Communities in Recovery program, the art initiative aims to build resilience, promote emotional healing and post-trauma recovery in the community.

An exhibition displaying the photographs, complete with an audio soundscape of community experiences, is proposed to be held in Batemans Bay once COVID-19 restrictions are eased further.

Man kneeling on beach with dog at Malua Bay with people in background and red sky.

Exhausted but not defeated – people gathered on the beach at Malua Bay. Photo: Kelly S.

“Australia is no stranger to bushfires, but the 2019-2020 season was unprecedented,” said Mr Creed. “Hotter temperatures, drought and high winds escalated the crisis.”

During the past fire season, more than 46 million acres were burned, nearly 3000 homes and several thousand buildings were destroyed, and 34 people died.

The Insurance Council of Australia estimated bushfire claims were approximately $1.9 billion. Economists estimated the impact of the bushfires was about $3.5 billion. University of Sydney ecologist Chris Dickman estimated that more than one billion animals were killed.

Snake coiled on branch in burnt bushland off Runnyford Road between Batemans Bay and Mogo.

A snake coiled in burnt bushland off Runnyford Road between Batemans Bay and Mogo on 15 February 2020. Photo: Kat S.

“A lot of our members lost everything – paintings, homes, studios – while the broader membership has been traumatised, evacuating three or four times,” said Mr Creed. “By sharing your personal experiences, you are playing a significant role in helping us all understand the effects of the fires, large and small, on our community as a whole.”

The project was initially conceived by Mark Blumer, from Blumers Personal Injury Lawyers, who felt compelled to help the community reconnect after such a traumatic experience.

House in Mogo through thick smoke.

Church Street in Mogo, seven minutes before the bushfire came over the ridge. Photo: Macy MK.

“In the face of the fire, we were alone – with others, but alone,” said Mr Blumer. “Many people took photos of what the fire made of our world. This is an invitation to share those photos with each other, to see what others saw, to feel – if we can – what others felt, and to not be so alone.

“We hope to build a community of people who understand each other better and are not afraid to care about each other. In the face of the fire, we can come together to find strength, love and healing.”

Long Beach with smoke on the horizon.

Darkening skies at Long Beach. Photo: Supplied.

To preserve these stories for the future, CABBI is also proposing to conduct a more expansive South Coast bushfire oral history project following the exhibition, and will be seeking volunteers to share their stories in greater detail.

Did you take an interesting photo during the bushfires of 2019-2020? Submit it to Postcards From the Fire via Facebook or Instagram using the hashtag #postcardsfromthefire.

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