Foundation for Rural & Regional Renewal

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.

On Jukembal, Kamilaroi and Bundjalung Country

The TenterLIFE Suicide Prevention Network was formed in 2019 in the northern NSW rural community of Tenterfield. By bringing members of the community together to talk and learn about suicide prevention, the organisation hopes to reduce the number of suicide and suicide attempts in the area.

Tenterfield has been through many traumas over the past few years. Drought, fires and more recently COVID have taken their toll on the community. The effects of the 2019/2020 Black Summer bushfires are still being felt by the community, with the landscape still blackened. This affects people’s mental health.

Tragically, there were 154 suspected or confirmed suicide deaths reported in NSW from 1 January to 28 February 2021. This is similar to the number of deaths reported within the same time period in 2019 and 2020, so this is an ongoing issue that needs dedicated focus.

Chairperson of TenterLIFE, Lexie Sherren, explained that the numbers for the Inverell / Tenterfield area are among the highest in the state.

“By informing communities of the drastic need to be more aware of the situation, hopefully these numbers can reduce,” she explained in their application.

The compelling case, plus the support of a range of local stakeholders, including health, allied health, education and charity sectors, plus community members with first-hand experience of mental health and suicide impacts, coupled with their track record, saw TenterLIFE awarded a $25,000 Strengthening Rural Communities (SRC) grant, thanks to the support of a private donor. The funds went toward printing flyers, purchasing t-shirts and windcheaters to be worn on their public walks and running Suicide Prevention First Aid training. Having spent less money on the shirts and jackets, FRRR approved a variation that meant they also purchased a PA system to use at events, rather than borrowing from one of the members.

The group has held regular ‘Walk ’n’ Talk’ events, marked White Wreath Day where they remembered those lost to suicide, as well as participated in Stress Down Day, where there was a talk on stress management and then the group sang and blew bubbles.

“All the comments were positive and I don’t think I’ve seen everyone attending smile and laugh so much. We played People Bingo, had an A-Z Scavenger Hunt and played lots of games.

“These events instil a sense of belonging for community members. Knowing someone cares can provide relief for a person who may be suicidal. Giving voice to their thoughts and expressing their feelings aloud, knowing someone is there to listen, can be truly lifesaving. Isolation or feeling alone can also increase suicidal tendencies, while connection with another person can have the reverse affect,” Ms Sherren said.

The group has more activities planned throughout the year.

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