30 June 2023

Upper Lachlan residents urged to embark on post-bushfire journey - through art

| Sally Hopman
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Woman takes photo of mural on building

Fintan Magee’s evocative work in Merrigang Street Bowral is part of the Paint The Town project organised by Southern Tablelands Arts. Magee is one of the country’s leading street artists. Photo: Southern Tablelands Arts.

No one who was there can forget the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires. Whether they lost a loved one, a home, or animals, the memory remains forever.

It was a time when nature showed her worst and when people showed their best; their camaraderie with others, their generosity of spirit – and everything else when it came to helping people who lost it all.

In a project funded by Southern Tablelands Arts, Paint The Town is not encouraging people to forget the pain of the bushfires and their aftermath, rather it is inviting them to help use art as a way towards recovery.

Paint The Town is the brainchild of Wollondilly street artist Jo Quilter. His vision was for nationally established artists to work alongside local talent to create murals in the centre of towns affected by the bushfires – or, if the survivors preferred, on private locations on their properties.

Since the project began about two years ago, such works of art have sprung up across the Wollondilly and Wingecarribee shires – now it’s the turn of the Upper Lachlan and early next year, Goulburn-Mulwaree.

“These murals represent the voices and insights of fire-affected community members,” Erin Olafson from Southern Tablelands Arts said. “It is done through co-design workshops held with fire-affected community members,” she said.

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“It’s a celebration of art that brings colour, vibrancy and culture to our region.”

The process starts with the artist talking to the locals about their experiences and how they might like to see that reflected in a mural. Then a design brief is created for the artist following consultation and input from the community members.

Erin said trauma counsellors were also involved in the project.

“The idea behind this project we hope is for it to be therapeutic for people, that’s why we have professional counsellors involved. We want to support people who are bringing up past experiences.”

She said many of the Southern Highlands murals were about regeneration, with lots of flora and fauna pictured appearing after the fires. Then there were others that were more graphic – like how helicopters, such an ever-present sight during the fires, would spook horses in the paddocks.

Mural on wall

Sam Hill’s mural at the Hill Top Village store was all about regeneration, post-bushfires. Photo: Southern Tablelands Arts.

People affected by the bushfires in the Upper Lachlan Shire are now invited to take part in the project. The murals don’t all have to be in the main street of the towns and villages, they can be “private” murals on particular properties – like on a fence or a silo – if that’s what the landowner prefers.

One of the most stunning “private” murals in the Wollondilly Shire is of a huge black cockatoo. Painted by street artist SNARL, it was created on a Bundanoon property which was destroyed by the bushfires. The owner, Karen, lost her home, and her family is living in temporary accommodation as they rebuild their lives.

“Thanks so much for our wonderful murals, they fill our hearts with joy,” she told Southern Tablelands Arts.

Residents affected by fire in the Upper Lachlan Shire in the NSW Southern Tablelands are invited to take part in the project. The area includes the towns and villages of Gunning, Collector, Bigga, Binda, Crookwell, Dalton, Grabben Gullen, Laggan, Taralga and Tuena.

Black cockatoo mural

Created by street artist SNARL, this giant black cockatoo is a “private” mural on a Bundanoon property which was destroyed by fire. Photo: Southern Tablelands Arts.

Two co-design workshops have been organised for Friday 7 July – the first at the Tuena Town Hall from 10 am to midday and the second from 2 pm to 4 pm at the Emily Chalker building in Crookwell.

They will be run by Stephen Carroll, a qualified counsellor who has lived and worked in the Upper Lachlan for 30 years.

Anyone from the Upper Lachlan region who has lived through the 2019-2020 bushfires is now invited to register for the workshops.

Register here for the Tuena workshop or here for the Crookwell workshop.

Goulburn-Mulwaree is the next region on the agenda, with the call going out to locals interested in taking part in February next year.

More information about the Paint The Town project is available from the Southern Tablelands Arts website here.

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