Creative Recovery project

The third article of the Lockdown Series by members is written by Janine Good regarding involvement after bush fires with the Creative Recovery Project.

In 2011, February 1-10 I was part of an exhibition at Federation Square held in the Atrium of the Ian Potter Centre NGV called ‘Emergence – Art on the Move’.   The exhibition was to showcase emerging and professional artists whose work dealt with the themes of the Black Saturday 2009 bushfires and the truth of the recovery process. Many artists lived within the fire-affected communities and had taken on leadership roles, organizing projects, exhibitions and enabling the community to connect. The event included visual arts exhibitions, writing / poetry, music and performance in Melbourne to commemorate the second anniversary of Black Saturday and promote the contribution of the arts to the recovery process. Kinglake Ranges Visual and Performing Arts Alliance were drivers of the project with the assistance of Regional Arts Victoria’s Arts Recovery Project Officer, Marilyn Gourley.

My two artworks Firefront and Rebirth were my response to the Black Saturday Bushfires.  Although they came within a few of kilometers of our property in Drouin, fortunately we weren’t physically affected apart from the changed landscape surrounding us. The anxiety of that time was widespread because you couldn’t know if you were going to be impacted – such an unpredictable beast is a bushfire.

I have had friends who lost everything in those Black Saturday fires, the Ash Wednesday 1983 fires and the more recent Bunyip State Park fires in March 2019 and we have just witnessed the most extensive season of fires the Black Summer Bushfires of 2019/2020 of which we are all so painfully aware have had such widespread devastation.

I think this is why I was prompted to apply for the position of Creative Recovery Artist Facilitator a few months ago. I was also prompted by the opportunity to work alongside Sue Jarvis who has been an inspiring mentor for me since the early 80s.

My partner lost his house in Cockatoo during Ash Wednesday, not only that, he narrowly escaped being caught in the firestorm. When fires are around, he goes silent. In those days there wasn’t any bushfire recovery process, no recognition of trauma, no counselling services, although the community pulled together with what he describes as overwhelming support, because you never expect there will be help when you’re in shock and a situation like that presents itself onto your life. He was provided with some Op Shop clothes and the rubble of his house was removed ready for rebuilding. Other people offered support by removing dangerous burnt-out trees free of charge. It took a couple of years, but he rebuilt and carried on with his life. He and I started a relationship not long after his house had been rebuilt although I had visited his old house before the fires. Each summer living in Cockatoo the fear of fires would return which eventually encouraged us to move in 2001 with two young children by then, away from forest to the rural farming environment of Drouin.

We have come a long way since Ash Wednesday and the training that Sue and I have been receiving as part of our Creative Recovery Project has been enlightening. We have learnt about some amazing Creative Recovery projects occurring all around the world after all kinds of disasters, such as the South-East Asian Tsunami and the earthquake in Christchurch NZ, to name a couple, but trauma isn’t always a sudden impact, it can arise out of the slow erosion of cultures due to expansion of cities for example. We have learnt about the different phases a person goes through after trauma, how there is an adrenaline period followed by a big downward collapse and then the gradual climb to recovery. We have learnt that there is overwhelming evidence that art plays a pivotal role in trauma recovery. We have learnt that people and communities are affected and respond in different ways. We have learnt that this job is often met with anger and frustration and that we need to remain calm and supportive through this.

Our aim is to learn what the communities of Bunyip Forest will find beneficial for them and then create a project that can assist them with their recovery. We don’t yet know what that will look like because due to Covid-19 we haven’t yet been able to meet with the communities. The pandemic will be felt far greater in the bushfire affected communities who were already suffering from dislocation and loss and the feeling that they have been forgotten.

But we are about to take those first careful steps.

Firefront depicts a birds-eye view of the impenetrable barrier of fire sweeping across the landscape driven by wind and creating a blanket of smoke. It shows the before/after change in the landscape.

Rebirth depicts the new life force emerging after water flows into the ashen landscape. This is a bugs-eye view of new growth springing into action. The skeletal grey hills beyond will take longer to recover.

Janine Good Artist – Creative Recovery Artist Facilitator 2020 – new MSWPS member.

From Sue Jarvis:

Janine and I are Creative Recovery Facilitators for our Cardinia Shire.

This has been limited by the Covid situation, but we have done a great deal of online study. As part of this, I have used Louise Foletta is as an example of an artist working with her local community at Buxton, Marysville and Narbethong following the 2009 fires. She helped form the Triangle Art Group, and later had her artworks shown at the Royal Commission.

I have also included a few images of the recovery of the bush near here after the 2019 fires. The wet months have resulted in extraordinary growth. Unfortunately, few of the 49 homes lost have been replaced. Working with other artists has been uplifting, as has preparation for an Exhibition of my work at the shire’s Gallery at Pakenham.

From Louise Foletta:

Night of Fire  2009. This is what we saw from the window and I remember thinking “I should paint this, where’s the camera” the house was all dark but we found it, I found it hard to get it all working but we did and I used a photo as reference. I think you can see the fear in this. This was included in the exhibition in Dandenong and selected by the curators of the Dax Museum for their exhibition ’From The Fire’ in 2015.