It’s a rare day that I’m not reminded of the 2009 Black Saturday fires in some way. Whether it’s blackened tree trunks that still punctuate the landscape, or stories of personal loss and bravery from the artists who live here…the stark reminder is always there. Individuals and communtities have rallied in all sorts of ways to deal with their grief. Notably on Isiiad, Ali Griffin and Billy Chisholm, Leanne Mooney, Lloyd Godman, Liz Nettleton, Jenny Reddin, and Ona Henderson and Syd Tunn have found a way through their art.
Local blacksmiths, along with the fire affected communities, have found their way through The Tree Project, where they are joining together and honouring all of what was lost on that dark dark day. It’s an impressive story which involves generosity of spirit both locally and internationally, warming hearts and focusing attention on the humanity in all of us. As the anniversary of Black Saturday looms on the calendar, it’s a good time to pause and celebrate the courage and strength of those still struggling to assuage their grief and maintain their hope for a brighter future through this project.
Most locals have heard of the project and understand it in varying degrees. So it might be useful for me to include some background here so that you dear reader will also know the beauty and humanity of those who I now call my neighbours.
Immediately after Black Saturday the Australian Blacksmiths Association (Victoria) put out a call to blacksmiths around the globe, asking that they make metal leaves with a view to creating a metal tree as a memorial to all of those who died or lost their home in the fires. At that very early stage it was envisaged that the tree would have maybe two or three hundred leaves and be of a size suitable to be put in a large pot. The blacksmiths didn’t anticipate the response world wide. Blacksmiths from 20 countries pledged so many leaves that it became necessary to arrange for Qantas to freight them from collection points in the UK and USA back to Australia. Today the number of leaves received totals in excess of 3,000. The tree upon which they will be welded will measure around nine meters high. It will be sited within a specially designed, landscaped garden in Strathewen. A sacred sanctuary of sorts, where locals can come to remember their loved ones and take strength from the healing power of community.
Volunteers working on the final of three leaf sorting days in December 2011 . Left to right, Greg George, Barbara Joyce, Doug Tarrant, Jill McIver (who interestingly became a blacksmith through the project) and Mary Avola.
I feel compelled to mention the work of the volunteers involved. In fact all of the work done for the project has been provided by volunteers… some directly affected by losing loved ones and homes in the fire, and others who felt a need to do something, anything to help. Members of the Australian Blacksmiths Association, led by its president and the project’s head blacksmith Doug Tarrant, have put in hours of work already. Project manager Amanda Gibson has been there since the very beginning. She has devoted the equivalent of full time employment to the project, working sporadically in her profession of graphic design, to keep the wolf from the door. More about Amanda later.
Once the community got wind of the project the idea of calling for sponsorship was floated. Again, the response was immediate and heartwarming. Sponsors were offered the opportunity to have the name of a loved one or an organisation stamped onto a leaf. Sponsorship money was earmarked for materials and equipment so that the purchase of the metal for the trunk and the cost involved in siting the tree could be covered.
Every sponsored leaf has been photographed. The photographic image has been sent to the sponsor for their records. Three leaf sorting days were organized where individual leaves were sorted into bundles (above) according to the branch on which they would eventually be welded. Leaf sorting days attracted up to thirty volunteers. A feasters lunch was provided, so that at midday everyone downed tools and enjoyed some good hearted chit chat and perhaps a glass of wine, in a convivial atmosphere. On the day I attended, I was lucky enough to be invited to share in the lunch…oh happy day!
The model for the final tree design.
Head blacksmith Doug Tarrant commented, “We wanted The Tree to be in a quiet reflective place where people could remember who and what was lost.” Doug is a modest man but others tell me that he has devoted countless hours of his time to working on this project.
Now as promised, back to the lovely Amanda Gibson (above). The work she has completed for this project already, is immense. Liaising with blacksmiths, council and the community, organizing leaf sorting days and the collection of leaves from here and overseas, coordinating volunteers, coordinating sponsorship and communicating back to each sponsor directly, designing and managing the website, managing the facebook page- are just a few of the time consuming tasks on Amanda’s daily agenda.
With the aim of erecting the tree on site in October this year, the work ahead of her is arguably all consuming. She has already proven that she is up to the task. Her skill set is perfect. She has her Certificate in Metal Fabrication, coupled with an ability to work sensitively with emotive issues of grief and loss. She is creative and innovative and oh so capable, working through the various challenges with great integrity. In short, she is the right person for the job.
It’s come to my attention that due to the enormity of The Tree Project she is unable to fit in enough paid work to cover her modest living expenses. She has explored many avenues of funding but has been unsuccessful. If you know of any funding possibilities or are able to help in any way, please let me know via my Isiiad contact info. Any information or help would be very gratefully received and will be passed on to Amanda without delay.
While I’m on the subject of funding, in addition to funding for Project Manager, there is a documentary begun by experienced film maker Quentin Fogarty, on the drawing board, that needs funding if it’s to be completed. I’ve seen the demo and judging by the work that’s been done so far, it looks like a wonderful record of this project. Again, if any readers are able to help out in any way with suggestions for funding avenues or ideas, please let me know as soon as possible. I’d hate to see either the project or the documentary compromised for the want of some financial support!
We were all aware on the Sunday after Black Saturday that recovery would be a ‘long haul’ process. This project is in it for the long haul. Let’s see what we can do to ensure its completion, so that courage does in fact overcome despair!
If you would like more information about The Tree Project go to their website. To keep updated with project developments I recommend that you ‘like’ their facebook page. It’s full of great information, stories and photographs.
PS. A small display for The Tree Project can be seen at the Community Gathering organized by the Strathewen Community Renewal Association to commemorate Black Saturday. Amanda Gibson will be in attendance. Details are as follows,
When: Tuesday 7th February 2012
Where: Strathewen Recreation Reserve Pavilion
Chadds Creek Rd. Strathewen Time:6pm – 8pm
Optional Viewing: The film “Then the Wind Changed” by Celeste Geer will be screened on ABC TV at 8:30pm and may be viewed in the pavilion for those who wish to stay.