The lights came to us on Saturday night. Through misting rain, a procession of children brought luminous joy to a cattle shed in Whittlesea. The lanterns, hand-crafted by children from two primary schools, glowed gently, accompanied by the song of young children. A star-shaped lantern guided the children across the oval to converge at the entrance to the shed, where a beguiling shadow puppet performance unfolded in the rain. My sons’ excited faces were infused with the pride of achievement and a sense of belonging; my vision blurred by a mother’s tears. Awaiting us in the shed was a masterful exhibition – a journey through pain and loss into the light. Works echoing three time periods – before, the moment of change, after – were arranged to allow for viewers to undertake a personal journey through the exhibition. Paths of black wood-chips, white salt and earth brown twisted between the exhibits. Works in fabric, natural materials, pottery and of fire-altered materials demonstrated the depth of talent in the community and the therapeutic nature of the creative process. Symbolism was evident in many of the works, benefiting from repeated viewings. A ceramic made by one of the schoolchildren depicted a blackened tree and the words ‘What happens now?’. Indeed, what does happen now? For many the recovery journey has only just begun – we remain fragile, sensitive to small perturbations. Our resilience is reduced, our defences weakened.
Gathered in the shed were people willing to share – bushfire survivors, supporters both professional and voluntary. The mood was buoyant, festive even, but respectful and considered. I was there to do a job: to read one of my poems to an audience for the first time. I had not rehearsed other than read the poem aloud at the dining room table a couple of times. Was I nervous? A little, but also proudly excited just like my five year old who held my hand and stood with me on the stage. I introduced myself, explaining the amazing writing journey I have taken over these last three months and of the support given to me by the ‘Conversations’ group and the ‘Express Yourself’ workshops. When I said I had written thirty poems in that time excited whoops echoed about the shed (thanks Jesse!). And so I read my poem ‘Home’. Slowly, savouring each word, I spoke it aloud and sent it into the crowd. My first poem – both written and performed – and one that I no longer find has much power over me when I read it on the page. But spoken aloud to an audience with shared experience it seemed to have life, power anew, and I left the stage elated, proud and with a new sense of identity. I have survived. My life has meaning, purpose – a future of new experience beckons. Art and community give us meaning. Through them we heal. My creative journey is just beginning.
My sincere thanks to Meme and Stefanie for including me in the program. And to my support crew – Stacey, Grant, Jesse, Leanne, Sebastian and Jeremy.