A new circle of friends has been born out of ‘that day in Tathra’ and this weekend their time, talent, and support for each other will be on show.
The Tathra Firebirds emerged out of the bushfires of March 18 and have gone on to be a force of creativity and acknowledgment, reflecting the diverse experiences of ‘that day’.
Co-convenor Amanda Galvin-Myers got through the Canberra Bushfires of 15 years ago only to face that intensity again in her new town of Tathra. Her experience in 2003 has shaped a response to bushfire that has given comfort to those who might have been missed in the twists and turns of the extraordinary recovery effort of the last eight months.
“Kate Marshman and I didn’t have much of a social network in Tathra, and we were feeling the need to make contact with others,” Amanda says.
“We were reading posts on Facebook of other women feeling unsafe, uncertain, fearful, anxious – so we thought we needed to do something.”
From there the Tathra Firebirds took flight. Going out of their way to keep the group informal and uncomplicated, Amanda and Kate simply invited people to bring craft and art they might have been working on at home to the Tathra Hotel.
People who lost their home, people who lost their neighbours, firefighters, people shaken by the experience all gathered.
The arty activity inspired conversation, a mix of busy hands opening the mind and putting people at ease, and being able to express feelings of grief, loss, fear and hope through art and colour.
Not talking at these get-togethers is okay as well. Simply being with people while you paint, knit, colour-in, or draw.
“Art is a way to communicate with others if you can’t find the words,” Amanda says.
“If you don’t know what to think or how you are feeling, [art] is a really good way to get it out – using your hands to get all that stuff out.”
Group projects and workshops have also been part of the Firebirds routine taking in origami, ceramics, jewelry making, and Christmas decorations.
And just as the colour starts to return to the Tathra landscape the Firebirds are ready to add to that palet with an exhibition of what has been created in their six months together.
“Some of the works are the result of us going out and looking at what is happening in our new environment.”
Amanda talks about the “black upon black’ of the landscape being an artistic and an emotional challenge at first but one the Firebirds were able to overcome.
“You find charcoal and think I can make a drawing from charcoal,” she says.
“We have a work here by Pip Marshman, she got some paper and took some rubbings off the burnt bark of a tree.
“There is still beauty here and something that resonates with me.”
The weekend’s exhibition also features personal artifacts that survived the flames of ‘that day’, a tribute in a way to what was lost but also what has survived.
“It’s interesting to realise what is left [and the value it now has] – a burnt old fork and a ceramic mug, they are now perhaps family heirlooms,” Amanda says.
“One family I was speaking to are rebuilding and they are thinking – how can we incorporate these things back into the house.”
Many in surrounding towns and villages have felt a reluctance to come to Tathra in the wake of the bushfires, not wanting to be a sticky beak or impose on people, but the invitation is there this weekend to come and take in the exhibition.
“We would love to see people from Bermagui, Bega, Merimbula – from the whole district, [people] who helped us so much, please do come along and see what we are seeing through our eyes.”
The exhibition might also be a marker for the people of Reedy Swamp, Vimy Ridge, and Tathra to check in with themselves.
The artworks of black and orange and the strength of the brush strokes certainly trigger a sense of the wind and flames of ‘that day’. The melted metal and glass point to homes and possessions lost.
“I know some people are not ready to come, some people might want to test their boundaries and see – where am I at?” Amanda says.
So in a town with strong social circles around the surf club, golf, mountain biking, and football codes emerges the Firebirds, and with it a social network and recognition for part of the Tathra community that wasn’t connected or reflected before.
The Tathra Firebirds will take a break over summer with the loose thought of reconvening in 2019 and growing the group. Celebrate their birth this weekend or find out more via their Facebook page.
The Fiesty Firebirds and Fire Artefacts Exhibition runs 10:00 am to 4:30 pm November 24 and 25 in the Trove Gallery at the Tathra Hotel. Singer-songwriter Jenny Stephens will perform between 10.30 am and 11.30 am on Saturday, and there will be a free fire bracelet making workshop between 1:30 pm and 3:00 pm, Saturday.
Free cake will be provided by Bega CWA and volunteers from the Australian Red Cross will be on hand to provide support for those who might be affected by the exhibition.
Visitors will be asked to give a small donation, any funds raised will be given to the Californian town of Paradise, recently destroyed by wildfire.