When day dawned that Saturday everyone could smell danger. Here in the city, officials had been warning for days of catastrophic temperatures and high winds. Even the plane trees had heeded the warning, dumping their leaves on one single night in readiness for the trial to come.
By 10am on 7 February 2009, the wind was roaring and the temperature close to its horrid maximum.
By midnight, 173 people, in a rural arc to the north and northeast of the city, had perished in the bushfire which has become known as Black Saturday. Some people died in their cars attempting to flee the massive walls of flame; some died in their homes with their families, two or three generations together.
In the small town of Kinglake, 35 people died. Many homes and properties were lost, as well as the town’s kindergarten. A few weeks ago, on 20 March, the town proudly opened its new kindergarten-cum-school called the Kinglake Ranges Children’s Centre. One of the features of the new centre is a wishing well for the children, and my friend Shaylee McKenzie has created a butterfly sculpture to adorn it.
Shaylee, whose own home in the town was saved by a neighbour, went along to the opening and was deeply moved by the experience. She says,
I was humbled by the commitment of the community to regenerating the region. Not only generating themselves from personal tragedy, but generating themselves for the sake of the rest of the community.
At the opening, the children of the town released live butterflies in memory of their friends who were lost in the fires.
The butterfly wishing well is intended as a place to create (“wish for”) what is most important to us. In creating it, and being present at the opening, Shaylee herself has regenerated what matters to her about making art. She says,
So many of us squash self-expression, the need for creative expression or joy because it is “impractical” or there is just no time … whatever valid complaint it may happen to be. If art is a way of re-presencing possibility and generating gratitude and joy every time you look at it, then I’m up for it …
For more information about Shaylee and her artmaking, click here.
Image: Looking towards Melbourne from Kinglake after the fires, photograph by Craig Borrow, Herald Sun