Towamba children respond creatively to bushfire devastation with renewal exhibition

'Rainbow Pine Logs', a collaborative piece by the Kindergarten pupils of Towamba Public School.
'Rainbow Pine Logs', a collaborative piece by the Kindergarten pupils of Towamba Public School.

As a result of Australia's disastrous 'Black Summer', the 20 children enrolled at Towamba Public School had their start to the school year interrupted, initially due to the ongoing bushfire threat, then by floodwaters rising in the Towamba River catchment.

During this time, local artist Vicki McCredie met with pupils, guiding them to respond creatively to their experiences and the impact the Border Fire had on the Towamba Valley, bringing The Fireflies Project in to being.

Nicci Grant, K-3 teacher at the school said Ms McCredie had been a wonderful mentor for the children.

"The creative process brought out the best in the kids and we have been so blessed having Vicki put her heart and soul in to the project," Ms Grant said.

"It's been a very organic unfolding, it sprouted from an idea that Vicki had for an after-school art club and took root when some of the local children visited her studio in the days after the fire," Ms Grant said.

The initial painting was a large collaborative piece titled 'Thank you', expressing gratitude to all the services who had worked tirelessly to keep the community safe.

Work on this piece began at Vicki's art studio, it was then loaded on to the back of her ute, along with paints and pastels, to visit the children at their homes in and around the township.

As the project developed, the school was successful in obtaining a grant to support communities in recovery via Coordinaire, South Eastern NSW Primary Health Network.

"Vicki and some children initially explored the charred forest, examining how the bush had responded to the fire and this research inspired them to collaborate on an artwork called 'Joy in the Struggle', depicting epicormic buds sprouting from blackened trunks," Ms Grant said.

'Joy in the Struggle', a collaborative piece by Arlie (11), Monique (11 ) and Moriah (10 ).

'Joy in the Struggle', a collaborative piece by Arlie (11), Monique (11 ) and Moriah (10 ).

"This project gave students the opportunity to look for positives after a very difficult time; seeing new leaves and tree ferns sprouting, the change and renewal underway."

An artwork titled 'Rainbow Pine Logs' depicts piles of pine logs salvaged from the plantations at Pericoe after the Border Fire tore through the area.

"Our Kindergarten students collaborated on it, delighting at the creation of new colours as they experimented with mixing paint on their palettes - they decided the logs should be painted in rainbow hues to reflect their happiness that not all the timber from the pines was wasted.

"A strong underpinning of the project was the well-being felt through connection, working together and with a talented artist in a safe and nurturing setting," Ms Grant said.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in pupils being kept home from school once again, Ms McCredie has sent each of the children in the 12 families involved printed cards of their artworks, along with stamps, encouraging them to write letters to friends living in other areas.

A selection of the 59 paintings from Towamba Public School's Fireflies Project are currently exhibited at Wild Rye's Bakery and a virtual gallery can be viewed on the school's Facebook page.

This painting by Jere, aged 7, belongs to the 'Stringybark and Box' series. It depicts different epicormic shoots appearing on burnt tree trunks along the road between Towamba and Eden.

This painting by Jere, aged 7, belongs to the 'Stringybark and Box' series. It depicts different epicormic shoots appearing on burnt tree trunks along the road between Towamba and Eden.