Remembering a community’s loss and celebrating its enduring spirit: the Whittlesea Bushfire Memorial is open to the public

November 1, 2015

The devastating bushfires of Black Saturday will long be remembered for their scale and ferocity, the worst in Australia’s history. This was also a very personal, local tragedy for the Whittlesea community, with enduring impact. Designed by Hatchling Studio, The Whittlesea Bushfire Memorial is a reflective space in memory of the tragedy of Black Saturday, 2009. It was officially opened by Danielle Green MP, Member for Yan Yean Saturday 24 October, Toorourrong Reservoir Park. This place of remembrance is dedicated to those from Whittlesea whose lives were lost in the fires.

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We won the tender to design the memorial and develop interpretive content back in 2012. The granite pod form alludes to native seeds that propagate only after intense wild fires, with seeds dispersing from the pod and into the pond symbolising new life and regeneration. From the outset, I rejected the role of artist-author in preference for creating a platform for the community to author their own stories. In lieu of a didactic narrative, the memorial presents a thematic arrangement of text and image generated by the community to evoke the experience of the fires and their aftermath.

A ‘narrative wall’ presents themes of fire, loss and the community spirit through image and text, while a ‘memorial wall’ is dedicated to remembering loved ones lost in the fires. The memorial space embraces the visitor, offering a sanctuary for private remembrance and shared stories.

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The development process has had a number of hurdles, mostly relating to the redevelopment of the Toorourrong Reservoir Park, which was a huge project for Parks Victoria. I’m very pleased to be able to announce that the memorial and the park are now open to the public. Community members that I’ve spoken with have expressed great appreciation that the memorial is finally complete.

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My deepest thanks go to the Project Working Group, who selected our design concept and steered its development and the Word Weavers writing group, who bravely shared their heart rending memories, raw emotions and tragic experiences, some of which are represented in the narrative wall text. I’m grateful to the members of my design team, for their expertise, collaboration and friendship through such a long project: David Gargiulo (illustration and design documentation), Dianna Wells (graphic design) and Hamish Coates (landscape design). I’d like to thank Ralph Mertins and Emma Bennet from Whittlesea Council for all their work in getting the project moving and seeing it through to completion.

The Whittlesea community is amazingly warm and resilient and I hope that the memorial supports those affected by the devastation of Black Saturday in remembrance and recovery.

Toni

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Photography by Toni Roberts and Dianna Wells.