12 November 2020

Exhibitions picture devastation, resilience and hope after fires

| Kim Treasure
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Michael Anlezark and Ken Foster with photographic exhibition.

Eurobodalla Regional Botanic Garden manager Michael Anlezark with long-time Friends of the Garden member Ken Foster and some of the images they supplied for the ninth annual photographic exhibition and fundraising calendar. Photo: Supplied.

For nine years, the Eurobodalla Regional Botanic Garden has run a photographic competition and exhibition, attracting entries from hundreds of enthusiasts.

But 2020 is a year like no other, and the garden itself has been the scene of massive change.

Devastated by the Black Summer bushfires that tore through on New Year’s Eve 2019, the much-loved tourist attraction has spent 2020 in recovery mode.

So instead of throwing the competition open to the general public as usual, this year it will feature the images of just two photographers: Eurobodalla Regional Botanic Garden manager Michael Anlezark and long-time supporter and Friend of the Garden Ken Foster.

The duo has been intimately involved in regenerating the garden, documenting its renewal and recovery in a series of photographs that will go on display.

Fittingly, this year’s exhibition has the theme ‘Recovery, a Year of Devastation, Resilience and Hope’ and opens on the inauspicious date of Friday, 13 November.

READ ALSO Eurobodalla Regional Botanic Garden reopens after black summer

“After the devastation of the New Year’s Eve bushfire, the Botanic Garden was closed to the public for more than six months,” said Mr Anlezark.

“The site was very dangerous and there was no way we could let the public in so the only record of what happened from that time is with images I took. Once the site was made relatively safe, Ken Foster was given permission to bring in his camera and record the continued recovery.”

Both photographers agreed that capturing, sorting and preparing images for exhibition has been an important part of their own recovery process, and at times a very emotional experience.

“So many people have a strong attachment to the garden and some may find the images both upsetting and uplifting,” said Mr Foster.

READ ALSO New growth at top tourist attraction

The exhibition will run until Sunday, 22 November in the garden’s new function room. Just one copy of each image on exhibition will be available for sale, with a selection included in a 2021 fundraising calendar. All funds raised go towards the garden’s ongoing recovery efforts.

Mr Anlezark said the exhibition is normally supported by more than 80 local photographers who submit around 300 images.

Some of them are likely to have been included in the Postcards from the Fire photographic exhibition. After its success at The Gallery in Mogo, Creative Arts Batemans Bay Incorporated (CABBI) has relocated the exhibition to the Village Centre Batemans Bay, opposite Kmart.

Girl covering face from smoke with bushfire in background on Malua Bay beach.

An anonymous entry to Postcards from the Fire exhibition, taken on Malua Bay beach on New Year’s Eve 2019. Photo: Supplied.

The exhibition will run until 9 December, 2020, and will be open from 10 am to 4 pm, Tuesday to Sunday.

CABBI president Robert Creed said the response has been almost overwhelming.

“To date, more than 750 catalogues of the exhibited photographs have been sold and we are just keeping up with the demand,” he said.

“This is not the end, we are still asking people to share their South Coast bushfire experience through photographs and stories.”

Mr Creed said individual memories of the disaster are important.

Postcards from the Fire display at Bridge Plaza.

Postcards from the Fire display at Bridge Plaza in Batemans Bay. Photo: Supplied.

“A lot of our members lost everything – paintings, homes, studios – while the broader membership has been traumatised, evacuating three or four times,” he said.

“By sharing your personal experiences through your photographs and stories, you are playing a significant role in helping us all understand the effects, large and small, on our community as a whole.”

Mr Creed encourages anyone with photographs or stories to upload them to Postcards from the Fire, email [email protected] or visit Facebook or Instagram using the hashtag #postcardsfromthefire.

“Traditionally, storytelling is a very powerful healing tool as a means to understand where we were then and now, and to provide a path forward towards healing and recovery,” he said.

READ ALSO Batemans Bay art initiative gathers Postcards from the Fire

“To preserve your story for the future, CABBI is also proposing to conduct a more expansive South Coast bushfire oral history project following the exhibition.”

Mr Creed encourages people to visit the exhibition and add their name to the list of interviewees for the oral history project.

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