27 February 2022

Leaf by leaf, Cobargo region forges tree of steel bushfire memorial

| Albert McKnight
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Dave Newell, Debra Summer and Ruby Newell hold leaves forged from steel for the Cobargo Community Tree Project

Dave Newell, Debra Summer and Ruby Newell forge leaves for the Cobargo Community Tree Project. Photo: Sarah/Iain Hamilton

Cobargo and Quaama community members are invited to become part of a project to create a memorial to the bushfires that ripped through their regions, in the hope it will bring them some peace from the turmoil resulting from the disaster.

The 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires decimated both towns and their surrounding regions, affecting all residents in some way.

As part of the Cobargo Community Tree Project, locals are being asked to forge a metal leaf with their name on it to become part of a 2500-leaf stainless steel tree sculpture.

Mother Mountain Forge blacksmith Iain Hamilton said he instigated the project because the fires were “such a devastating thing for the town”.

He said many residents were still affected by the fires and he hoped giving them “something to focus on” would have a cathartic effect.

“People still get worried when there’s smoke on the horizon or if the wind is coming from a certain direction,” he said.

“But I just want them to know… you can make something great with fire.”

He said participants could imagine putting their fear and anxiety into their creation and, hopefully, letting it go.

Mr Hamilton said the plan was to shape the tree’s canopy like an umbrella so when people walk underneath they could look up and find their name on the leaf they forged.

READ ALSO Firefighter boss John Cullen among Bega Valley Shire’s top citizens

Leaves will be grouped onto branches according to their creators’ locations, such as the Dignams Creek branch where Mr Hamilton’s leaf will be placed.

Mr Hamilton faced the flames himself that terrible summer and said the worst part was the constant state of alert.

“We didn’t get hit at the start of the month like Cobargo, we got hit 23 days later,” he said.

“We were sleeping two hours, then getting up to check, then sleeping again.”

A gum leaf and a steel leaf forged for the Cobargo Community Tree project

An example of a forged gum leaf. Photo: Photo: Sarah/Iain Hamilton

He also said it was more like a normal bushfire when it reached his place, “nothing like” the inferno that hit Cobargo, and he was lucky because by the time he pulled his gear on to fight it, three NSW Rural Fire Service trucks had arrived to help.

Now, over two years on, he said he still had fencing to do, but recovery was progressing.

“It’s a slow process, like everyone else,” he said.

The community tree project is about six months in and it is estimated it will take about two years to forge enough leaves to complete it.

READ ALSO Two years after Black Summer bushfires, the Bega Valley continues to rebuild

It takes about 1.5 hours to forge a leaf and about 250 have been made so far, so there are still plenty to go.

People of all ages who were from the Cobargo and Quaama regions – between Coolagolite, Wandella and Brogo – at the time of the bushfires, are invited to make one.

“You get a few people who say ‘oh I wouldn’t be able to do that’, to which I subsequently say ‘yes you can’,” Mr Hamilton said.

He is still working out where the tree will be placed, but wanted it to be on public land.

He is volunteering his time for the project along with Wandella’s Galba Forge blacksmith Philippe Ravenel and steel donated by Vulcan Steel.

To book a time to forge a leaf or for more information visit the project’s website.

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