The trauma of the 2009 Victorian Bushfires touched thousands of families and communities in Victoria, across Australia and throughout the world. The process of recovery is long and challenging. For manypeople the grief and distress is ongoing.
In the months following the fires, creative responses emerged from the fire-affected communities, including artwork, poetry, exhibitions and installations, publications and films. These provided an outlet for community members to make something physical and tangible in the wake of the fires, and played an important part in their recovery.
The Chook Project was a community-building and healing project that sprang from the ashes of Black Saturday. The project was initiated by Barbara Joyce, who had first knitted a chook cushion in 2004 with fibre from an alpaca, 'Coco', owned by her Strathewen neighbours Libby and Phil Perry. The Perrys, as well as Coco and the rest of the herd, died in the Black Saturday bushfires on 7 February 2009. Barbara took the cushion to the Perrys' funeral, and from that action the Chook Project was born.
In a gesture of comfort and support, Barbara Joyce then approached the Strathewen Primary school with a proposal. Each child was invited to colour in a picture of a nesting hen, and each design was translated by a team of volunteer knitters into a chicken cushion.
Another symbol of recovery is the hard hat worn by Jane Hayward, principal of Strathewen Primary School, while supervising the school's rebuilding after it was destroyed on Black Saturday, 7 February 2009. A temporary school was established at nearby Wattle Glen, which soon became a meeting place where community members gathered to receive aid, grieve together and plan for the future.
During the rebuilding one of Jane's students decided that Jane needed her own hard hat. It was purchased and decorated by the students with Jane's name and the words 'Super Teacher'.
In 2012 Jane was made a Member of The Order Of Australia for her service to the community.
The 2009 Victorian Bushfires permanently altered the Victorian landscape and deeply touched the hearts of communities across Victoria, Australia and worldwide. Amid the physical destruction and the ongoing emotional grief, the past ten years have borne witness to an ever-evolving recovery process that continues to this day.
'From the Heart: Remembering the 2009 Victorian Bushfires' is a program located in the temporary exhibition space on the upper west side of Melbourne Museum, 5 February to 12 May 2019. The program is a partnership between the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) and Museums Victoria.