Creativity rises from the ashes in Mooral Creek

Annual Review stories Black Summer Bushfire Recovery Community stories Disaster recovery stories: 10 November 2022

The small, rural town of Mooral Creek is around 260 kms north of Sydney. Following the devastation of the 2019/20 bushfires, the Mooral Creek Hall & Progress Association Committee embarked upon a project to bring the whole community together to connect, reflect and support each other through the bushfire recovery process.

With the help of a $25,000 Strengthening Rural Communities grant, supported by the Fire Fight Australia Fund, came Creative Spark – an arts project aimed at encouraging creative expression and developing confidence and skills in a range of artistic forms. Through a series of visual and performance arts workshops in 2021, the project brought together the people of Mooral Creek and neighbouring communities. The project culminated in an uplifting Showcase event that celebrated the community’s achievements.

Project organisers coordinated the delivery of 14 different workshop series over 55 sessions, all while negotiating the difficulties of local flooding and COVID restrictions. More than 75 community members participated in at least one workshop.

Participants benefited from the skill, enthusiasm and encouragement of 11 local facilitators who aimed to shift focus from loss and trauma to positivity and inspiration. The facilitators themselves benefited from being able to share their knowledge, expertise and creative skills, while strengthening their community relationships. Sadly, the Fire Chief passed away during the project, however his wife found solace in delivering her painting workshop, and old and new friends were able to journey with her through grief and creativity.

Some of the resulting artworks from the many workshops directly reflected the subject of the bushfires and gave the town many beautiful keepsakes. In one workshop, participants painted the windows of Mooral Creek Hall with a stained-glass effect. They depicted their homes surrounded by colours, lines and shapes that evoked fire, smoke, landscape and nature. The overall effect for the Hall was transformative – creating a vibrancy and cathedral-like space, which can now be appreciated from both inside and outside the hall. The result of another workshop was a painting on a nearby utility pole – a simple memorial of the Black Summer Bushfires, in recognition of the work of the RFS and particularly, their Fire Chief. It depicts a koala, a goanna and a crimson rosella, some of the local fauna that suffered from the impact of the fires.

Other workshops had a stronger focus on coming together to learn physical skills, with a focus on mental wellbeing, such as ‘The Magic Circus’, Tai Chi and drumming workshops. The Middle Eastern Dance workshop saw women of all ages develop skills and collaborate over many weeks to choreograph a belly-dancing performance. The performance, titled Out of the Ashes, was described by many at the Showcase event as the best thing they had ever seen at the hall.

As well as exhibiting the artworks created during the workshops, the Showcase also displayed photographs taken during and immediately after the fires. This proved very thought-provoking, with many locals using them as a talking point to share their experiences of the bushfires. Also on display were several portraits commissioned from a local artist, which recognised community members who experienced significant loss from the bushfires, and were gifted to the sitters following the event.

The benefits of the Creative Spark project were far-reaching and effectively assisted the community to work through the trauma and experiences of living through the bushfires. Many residents were able to be involved in different ways – whether as a workshop facilitator or participant, having their portrait done, or as an audience member at the Showcase event. The breadth of arts activities and incredible scope of the project created a vibrant energy in the community and residents were amazed at what they were able to achieve. Several activities have continued throughout 2022 – evidence of the ongoing benefits of the project.

For more inspiring stories like this, head to our FY 2021/22 Annual Review.