Arts & Culture

Commemorative festival for bushfire-affected community in its final weeks

Edwina Mason2 February 2021
Helen Newman's special installation, 'Understories', at the Arbour Festival.

Helen Newman’s special installation, Understories, can be seen at the Arbour Festival. It is a series of playful projection works that speak to the dreamer child in each of us. Photo: Eastern Riverina Arts.

If art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life – as per the famous quote from Pablo Picasso – hopefully for the bushfire-ravaged residents of Snowy Valleys, an ongoing festival of art has provided some solace.

A year on from the Dunns Road fire – which, for 50 days, tore through 333,940 hectares of farmland, bush and forest near Tumbarumba, Laurel Hill, Tumut, Adelong and Batlow – there has been 50 days of something wonderful happening at Pilot Hill Arboretum, near Batlow in the western foothills of the Snowy Mountains.

Corroboree frog.

Conservation in Action will provide a series of catch-ups as part of Arbour Festival, including information on the re-establishment of nursery sites for the endangered corroboree frog. Photo: Supplied.

The fact this aptly named Museum of Trees, with its collection of beautiful and unusual species, miraculously survived the bushfire to see its centenary year in 2021 holds great allure for locals and visitors.

It also proved a perfect setting for the Arbour Festival, designed as a one-off event that Eastern Riverina Arts hoped would help mollify the anguish and melancholy of the bushfire anniversary.

Visitors are being encouraged to take a picnic in the shade of the arboretum, explore the forest walks through the stately tree specimens and towering native forests, and enjoy stunning temporary open-air installation artworks by bushfire affected local artists.

Curated by Regional Arts Australia Fellow, Vanessa Keenan, herself a survivor of the fires, the multi-faceted festival has proven enormously successful in providing a program of events and activities hosted by local artists and makers that will hopefully introduce participants to a new hobby, rekindle an old interest, or merely act as a distraction in what is an anxious season for so many.

With just 15 days remaining, the headline event – the Finale Concert on 13 February, featuring Australia’s new golden girl of country music, Tooma-based Fanny Lumsden and supporting acts – has sold out. But there is still plenty more on the program.

This coming weekend is the best chance to get involved in the remaining workshops, and to experience the art on show.

Dimity Brassil conducting interview.

In the final weeks of the Arbour Festival in the Snowy Valleys, Dimity Brassil will teach people how to prepare for a life story interview. Photo: Supplied.

If conservation is your thing, particularly in the aftermath of the bushfires, Tumut River Brewing Company is the place to be on the night of Friday, 5 February, as Conservation in Action will provide a series of snappy 10-minute catch-ups. Hear about the re-establishment of nursery sites for the endangered corroboree frog, what’s being done to arrest the erosion of vulnerable soils, and learn about the action plan for invasive weeds. A Q&A will follow each presentation.

On Saturday, 6 February, head to Batlow for Record Your Family History, which shows you how to easily record an audio life story.

If you want to make a weekend of it, you can head down to Tooma on the Saturday and Sunday, 6-7 February, to explore the impact of the bushfires on waterways. Under the watchful gaze of NSW Department of Primary Industries and Local Land Services staff, there will be the opportunity to release fish back into the wild.

Perhaps the best way to see Pilot Hill Arboretum is with Softwoods Working Group forester Phil Clements, whose guided tour on Sunday, 6 February, will detail the history of the arboretum, its trees and the stories of those who planted them.

Artist Robyn Sweeney leaning on tree in forest.

Robyn Sweeney’s art installation, Containment Lines, at Pilot Hill Arboretum, uses mountain ash to draw from the Japanese tradition of Kintsugi, meaning ‘golden joinery’. Photo: Supplied.

There you will find the stunning art installations, Containment Lines, by Robyn Sweeney, which uses mountain ash to draw from the Japanese tradition of Kintsugi, meaning ‘golden joinery’, where something broken is repaired with gold in creating a line of gold in the nearby forest.

You can take the Dark Forest walk which, thanks to Sulari Gentill, uses technology to make the arboretum trees talk, or see how Juju Roche has installed 50 oil marked canvas flags on a tree to mark the 50 days of the fire, which visitors can take at its title and Sit Beneath.

The Huddle represents Marlene Pearce’s experience of the fires and speaks to the importance of family gathering in times of crisis. The sculptural works of Austrian artist Andreas Buisman, who created the Anzac Memorial at Bombala, are also on show – one is forged especially for the people of Batlow.

The Finale Concert will provide the final opportunity to view Understories, the after-dark magical treasure hunt created by Helen Newman.

For details on workshops and activities planned for the final two weeks of the Arbour Festival, visit here.

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