3 August 2023

Tumut art exhibition voices response of young people to Black Summer bushfires

| Edwina Mason
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The impact of the Black Summer bushfires on young people in the Snowy Valleys LGA is the subject of an art exhibition

The impact of the Black Summer bushfires on young people in the Snowy Valleys LGA is the subject of an art exhibition which opens in Tumut on 4 August. Image: Greg Stonham, Shutterstock.

An exhibition reflecting on the response of young people to climate disasters like the Black Summer bushfires of 2019-2020 opens in Tumut this week.

“Burning Generation” – part art and primarily research – has drawn from the experiences of young people living in the NSW Snowy Valleys region as part of a project overseen by Charles Sturt University.

Located on the western foothills of the Snowy Mountains, the farmland, forests, villages and towns of Tumut, Batlow, Tumbarumba and Adelong were hard hit by the fires and are still in recovery mode.

The exhibition of art and comments, opinions and experiences creatively communicated by a group of seven young people aged 12 to 18 years is on show until the end of August.

Project leader Dr Rachael Fox and Associate Professor Andrew McGrath in the Charles Sturt School of Psychology said the exhibition was part of a wider project, ‘Rural Australian Young People’s Experiences of Climate Disasters: Collaborating on Creative Action’.

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Dr Fox said participants worked on making art about those opinions and experiences, with the end goal of the project to have a collection of artworks that would form the basis of an exhibition, and the publication of the artworks supported by the words of the artists.

Dr Fox said with the support of a grant from Charles Sturt University Sustainability, in 2022 they partnered with local artist Claire Harris at Create Hub Riverina who has a background working with young people to express themselves creatively in relation to difficult issues.

They hosted six free afternoon workshops over six months in Batlow for young people aged 12 to 18 years in the Snowy Valleys.

“We had fun, built up art skills and other skills, and supported the young people to create high quality finished pieces of art that express their experiences and opinions of the Black Summer bushfires,” Dr Fox said.

“At the end of the workshops we also interviewed some of the young people in order to complement their artworks with their words, now presented in an accompanying booklet.”

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Professor McGrath said that in the Snowy Valleys region of NSW the Dunns Road fire near Adelong began on 27 December 2019 and continued until 24 February 2020, burning an estimated 333,940 hectares.

“In neighbouring Batlow, a town with a population of 1270 people where this project took place, one life was lost, 20 properties and homes were destroyed, as were orchards, logging forests, paddocks and livestock, and countless wild animals and native forest were decimated,” he said.

“Across the Snowy Valleys, a population of 14,500 people in towns including Tumut, Tumbarumba, Adelong and Batlow were significantly affected, with a reported loss of 186 homes, 27 businesses, thousands of livestock and an estimated $56 million in damage were reported.

“This project drew on the experience of the young people who experienced this environmental and social calamity.”

The ‘Burning Generation’ exhibition will be officially opened from 3 pm to 5 pm on Friday 4 August at the Tumut Region Visitor Centre, 5 Adelong Road, Tumut.

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