ABOVE: The people behind Fire Stories at the Roxy Gallery in Kyogle. Photo: Susanna Freymark
Words, pictures and voices bring to life the stories of the 2019-2020 bushfires.
Mary Shields photographed her glasses in the ashes of her Myrtle Creek house. The other household items she took photos of became symbols of the raging fire that turned her home to a pile of ash.
“It was amazing really, how the heat had affected things. Like the vehicles that burned and glass melting, metal melting, aluminium melting. The shipping containers had furniture and a life’s collection of books that hadn’t gone to the house yet. When you opened them it’s absolutely empty, lucky to be a bit of ash. Anything that might have had a little bit of steel on it like a chair or something had the steel there, but nothing else. Just nothing.”
Film maker Jimmy Malecki captured the fury of a fire on the move at Bungawalbin. His apocalyptic photo (below) is both stunning and scary.
His photos of the sky turned smoky orange features on the front cover of Fire Stories.
Here’s part of Jimmy’s story.
“Being at the back end of the fire, you’re just in shock. It looks like a bomb went off. The wind was going in different directions. A house down the road, fire went through: saved it. That fire came back: saved it. They didn’t think it would happen again. They went to town, did a shop, came back, their house was gone. So, I thought, ‘I’m not going anywhere, I’m going to protect my house.’”
There is a section of stories called Drake Village Voices where residents west of the range tell their fire stories.
Janelle Navin from Drake said:
“Just the mention of fires started my heart racing. But then I realised that’s all a part of post traumatic stress disorder, which I was diagnosed with after the fires, not knowing what was wrong with me. I emotionally broke down twelve months later.
“It was like being in a war zone, where the fire was the enemy. There was a lots of anticipation, we knew the fires were coming.”
Lee Hine from Kyogle Family Support Services wanted these harrowing bushfire survival stories told.
She contacted local author Jarrah Dundler to gather the stories.
The project grew and activist and writer Anastasia Guise came on board to help record the stories.
“We cried together, sometimes that was a year or two after the fire,” Anastasia said.
“I still go through deep grief about this. By telling your tales, I hope this project of us meeting together is part of the story.”
Photographers Jodie Harris, Daniel Taylor and Ben Belle photographed the people who were interviewed.
More than 1000 photos were collected from people impacted by the bushfires.
The stories and photos have been turned into a book that was launched at the Roxy Gallery on Friday, May 19.
A website was created too, featuring the photos and podcast of the interviews.
It is an insight into the trauma of bushfire and how survival of that event shapes who we are.
Some of the photos are on exhibition at the Roxy Gallery from May 18–June 18.
Visitors can access the podcasts through a QR code and listen on their smartphones.
The Fire Stories project is funded by the Bushfire Community Recovery and Resilience Fund and the exhibition is proudly supported by Kyogle Council’s Roxy Gallery and Kyogle Readers and Writers Festival.
Here are some of the photos included in Fire Stories.