Creative Recovery: After Bushfire

Community Led Creative Recovery

As time goes by…

MAY 2022 – APRIL 2023

In early 2022 Fabrik received funding from Wellbeing SA to craft a creative recovery program to encourage resilience and social connection for our community. We crafted opportunities for community to come together and engage in creative practice as a tool to express individual stories beyond the bushfire.

The program was underpinned with strong partnerships, especially with our community. All activities in the program were created collaboratively with community where in response, we developed tailored workshops that reflected the conversations shared.

Other key partnerships included our carefully selected artists and creative facilitators. As well as the CAMHS Bushfire Response Team, mental health clinicians from Summit Health and wellbeing facilitator/counsellor Kate McEwen from Apply Within for Wellbeing who provided a vital support to our program participants.

While most activities were offered widely across the bushfire recovery networks, a few workshops were crafted in conversation a group of community who had rebuilt their homes after the bushfire. They wanted to connect as a group with those who had shared experiences most similar to their own. For them, in the early days after the fire, any creative inclination took a backseat to the task of rebuilding the family home. As time has passed, they indicated they were ready to engage in our Creative Recovery program.

It was identified that there was a need to adorn ‘new walls’, after moving into (or soon to move into) newly rebuilt houses that didn’t yet feel like home. They shared that the items that had hung on the walls, the art and family photos were missed.

In response, the New Art for New Walls project was created. Family groups attended workshops with Hills artist Deb Twining, supported by CAMHS to create shared artworks representing the things that made them smile. These family artworks were exhibited in the SALA festival, printed reproductions were installed as large-scale adhesive posters on windows of Lobethal Main Street businesses, with the original new artworks sent home to hang proudly on new walls.

We also arranged a pop-up photography studio at Bushland Park, offering both (fun) formal family portrait sittings and wandering photography sessions to New Walls families, with printed and digital images from the sessions sent home in time for Christmas. These projects were supported by creative partners Silvertrace Photography and Ali Moylan Photography.

On request, we repeated the Badges of Self-Honor workshop. New participants engaged in mindful reflection with Wellbeing facilitator Kate McEwen to help identify a word that represented a personal attribute that they were most proud of. This word adorned the badge they made using reclaimed metal and learned jewellery making techniques with artist Sue Garrard.

These events are extremely beneficial for my emotional well-being – thank you.
Community Member

It was raised that children needed Creative Recovery activities too. In the approach to summer holidays, we heard of increased anxiety in local children. Two sessions of Worry-Doll Making designed for children and their adults to listen, sit, and sew together, were facilitated by local textile artist and Primary School Art teacher Anne Griffiths in partnership with Shoona Howard, Social Worker from the CAMHS Bushfire Response Team. The soft felted worry dolls made at our sessions included an opportunity to normalise talking together about worries and anxiety using creative expression.

It helped people with stuff and made them feel brave and good about themselves. Worry Doll workshop participant aged 10

Across the duration of the program, many voices raised the need to journal their experiences. The Pages Project, a series of three workshops was developed early on. The sessions included learning creative book binding techniques with artist Donna Gordge and engaged in guided journalling exercises with local art journal facilitator Rosie Rowland. While hands were busy making, the conversations shared were honest and authentic. This provided peer-support, an opportunity for reflection and growth, as well as the chance to connect /reconnect after the isolation of COVID restrictions.

…being with and speaking with others who lost their homes felt safe and I think was really good to see similarities in how we’re feeling.Community Member

A shift of perspective indicating regeneration and recovery has become evident. In the Spring of 2022, several conversations emerged about the need to document the loss of objects in the bushfire, to secure memories from being lost also. In early 2023, the conversations on this topic shifted from a language of loss, towards a need to create a homage to objects and memories. From this shift the Mapping the Memories and Writing the Future workshops were created to finish Fabrik’s Creative Recovery program with an ‘eyes above the horizon focus,’ as one community member put it. In Mapping the Memories, Amelia Walker and James Parker facilitated a session of creative writing and book making, where each participant created a bespoke keeping place for cherished memories. In Writing the Future, Poet David Chapple prompted participants with dynamic writing exercises to create poetry for letting go and creating anew.

Feedback has shown that the program of creative experiences has been incredibly meaningful for the community. In particular, we heard how valuable the constant presence of Fabrik has been for recovery, continually offering sessions that people could join when they were ready.

Thank you all so much for your commitment to us over the past 3 years. It’s been a journey but it does feel like we’ve come a long way together.Community Member