26 April 2022

'Sprouting hope amidst despair': online blog preserving community stories following Black Summer bushfires

| Claire Fenwicke
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Woman in front of computer screen

Magella Blinksell has spent the past two years curating stories for the upcoming online blog ‘With Our Own Eyes Eurobodalla’. Photo: Magella Binksell.

Two years on from the devastating Black Summer bushfires, preservation of climate and local stories has been cast in a more urgent light.

In response to this, Guerilla Bay local Magella Blinksell has taken it upon herself to gather the stories and responses of her community in a new online blog, With Our Own Eyes Eurobodalla.

“Living through Black Summer really changed the way so many locals and visitors to the South Coast looked at life, and also our beautiful coast,” she said.

“I felt that I could offer a small contribution by preserving some of our community’s stories and creative responses by bringing them together in a local blog. That might be a useful thing to do.”

The blog chronicles the community’s experiences with bushfire recovery and investigates local climate solutions and projects.

Magella’s artistic and freelancer background gave her the drive to create her collection of stories.

“Art and storytelling are the ‘grab bag’ I usually reach for in trying to make sense of changes within my own life,” she said.

“So it seemed natural to ask some nature observers and some artists, writers, locals and creatives if they’d be happy to share their works online or to be interviewed by a local blog with climate as its focus.

“I wanted the blog to reflect how hard we’ve worked to repair, find solutions and look forward, and for it to be a bit of a digital trove and holding place of inspiration and a celebration of the amazing and precious biodiversity we have here on Yuin Country in Eurobodalla.”

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What sets the blog apart is that it comprises much more than the written word.

It began life as a community art exhibition displayed in the front window of The Pantry in Moruya for the River of Art festival, just six months after the bushfires.

It now also contains recordings of performances and poetry, podcasts and artworks.

“This is about how we make sense of events and stages of our lives, which is hard to encapsulate in just one story or way,” Magella said.

“Art has a way of making visible the things that we sometimes feel we can’t talk about.”

Magella has been overwhelmed by the contributions and responses of the community, with more than 35 stories and pieces showcased on the site.

She theorised it’s because Eurobodalla locals have a strong connection to their natural environment and keenly feel how the fires and recent flooding have changed it.

“We walk out to the beach or paddock and immediately clock the washouts after an east coast low. We’ve seen what grows back and what doesn’t,” she said.

“Our cars feel the impacts of the multiple extreme weather events going over potholes from Batemans Bay to Tilba.

“Surfing, fishing, snorkelling, bushwalking, growing food or running a business, needing to burn off a windrow – by virtue of living on the coast we are attuned to the changes around us.”

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The site includes artworks by local printmaker Julie Mia Holmes, sculptures by bushfire survivor Nick Hopkins and prose from Rosedale teacher Jenni Knight.

Magella said the collections range from peaceful to poignant.

“One that really got to me is a photo taken by a local 11-year-old boy as his family had to evacuate Moruya during the fires on New Year’s Eve morning. It’s so evocative to see it through a child’s eyes,” she said.

The site also celebrates local climate initiatives as the region develops ways to help the surrounding environment recover.

“It’s been so hopeful to see the passion for practical climate solutions emerging in our community,” Magella said.

“There’s The Repair Cafe (in Moruya), community heatwave havens, a micro-forest in Moruya, along with an Indigenous ranger youth traineeship program.

“There’s so much that’s sprouting hope amidst despair.”

The With Our Own Eyes Eurobodalla blog launches in late April and is supported by local bushfire survivors and 350Eurobodalla.

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