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From natural disaster comes art — creatives face fire, flood and drought trauma head-on

Shannon Corvo, Saturday June 8, 2019 - 18:50 EST
Audience submitted image
Smoke rises from the Bangor bushfire in South Australia. - Audience submitted

Natural disasters can be absolutely devastating, and how people heal after disaster differs from person to person.

Financial hardship and mental health problems are common after such traumatic events.

However, art seems to be a popular way of expressing trauma.

Professor Sandy McFarlane, director of the Centre for Traumatic Stress Studies at Adelaide University, said art played a "transformative role" for individuals who had experienced trauma during natural disasters.

"One aspect of dealing with these events is transforming these memories and this awfulness into some meaning, and that can be done in symbolic ways," Dr McFarlane said.

"I think one of the really interesting things about art is that there are aspects of traumatic memories that are really beyond words."

Bangor fire in South Australia



In 2014, a small fire started just outside of Port Pirie and, within 24 hours, it became a fiery inferno.

, threatening the communities of Stone Hut, Laura, Beetaloo Valley and Wirrabara.

Five houses were destroyed, fences were damaged, and at least 700 sheep died.

One man living only a few hundred metres from the blaze in Wirrabara was Phillip Heaslip.

His property was burnt out to help contain the blaze, but his house survived.

"Probably the worst thing was waiting 28 days until it all went through the place and burnt it out," Mr Heaslip said.

"I'm no orphan. I'm like many people who've been burnt out — it has affected them deeply."



Mr Heaslip created Emu Spring, a business that repurposed the dead trees by selling them to contractors.

"The timber is being used for bordering sandpits, erecting nature play swings, cubby houses and bridges," Mr Heaslip said.

"I've met with some larger councils in Adelaide and they have some substantial projects coming up and I'm hoping to liaise with them."

Menindee fish kill in New South Wales

More than a million fish, including the iconic Murray River cod, .



Contractors cleaned up the rotting carcasses and dropped them off at landfill sites.

The fish had suffocated from a lack of oxygen after toxic blue-green algae bloomed.

It is still being debated who is responsible for the disaster.

In a bid to raise awareness of the catastrophic situation, artist Penny Sadubin from Illawarra teamed up with schools around the country to create an art installation.

With help from 3D printing company Me3D, students used 3D printers to create fish.

It was shown at the EcoArts Australis conference.

"In the end I had eight schools who ended up contributing fish," Ms Sadubin said.

"The installation is a 2 by 2.3-metre mat with part of the Murray-Darling River system hand drawn on it laid out on the ground.



"There are about 100 fish altogether laid out on the map."

Ms Sadubin is hoping to evolve the project into different forms, while still working with schools.

Floods in Queensland



Hundreds of thousands of cattle in north and west Queensland .

Farmers lost their livelihoods to the torrential rain and many people were left homeless.

Images of dead wildlife and videos of graziers asking for help surfaced on social media, causing nationwide interest.

Some people even travelled interstate to the flood-affected areas to lend a hand.

For 36-year-old self-employed artist Amy Naef this was not possible.

"I'm not in a position to be able to run off and help 1,500 kilometres away, but the way that I could help was by fundraising and then donating it," Ms Naef said.

Ms Naef created a watercolour print of Beryl the Brahman, a cow from Julia Creek that survived the disaster when 90–95 per cent of her herd died.

"The print was of Beryl being led from the mud by her owner and in the background, we had a couple of half-grown cattle, which was representative of moving on," Ms Naef said.



Since the print went on sale, Ms Naef has sold more than 500 copies.

"We donated $7,000 to BlazeAid and the other $7,000 went to Sisters of the North," Ms Naef said.

Drought in South Australia

In September last year, .

Farmers have been struggling to grow crops and many have had to destock.

Hay prices have skyrocketed and fodder has been scarce.



The dry conditions even caused one farmer to start feeding his sheep onions.

Designer Nikki Atkinson, director of Liv Sienne Fashions at Port Augusta, has been inspired by the drought, despite her husband having to buy feed for his stock for the first time ever.

"When I drive out of Horrocks Pass, I see the beautiful Spencer Gulf, the blue, and it was just amazing to see these browns and earthy tones and salt bush," Ms Atkinson said.





"The last pieces I've created were in a beautiful silk, really earthy tones so really mocha browns, flowing pieces."

Ms Atkinson has also made icy blue and white 70s-style pants with a split up to the knee and a tan stripe that complements a white shirt.

"That kind of represented to me that the drought had broken," Ms Atkinson said.

"We're seeing big fluffy clouds and lots of rain and the start of the green coming through."


- ABC

© ABC 2019

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