Recovery and Regrowth a community project

Textile workshop for Recovery and Regrowth exhibition

On January 7th, 2016 a bushfire was out of control in the hills surrounding Waroona, Yarloop and Harvey. It had started as a lightning strike the previous day, where hot dry winds had helped to fuel the blaze, its starting point was hard to get to by Bushfire brigades, so it became uncontrollable very quickly. 

That morning in Harvey, A quiet rural town in the Southwest of Western Australia, I was gathering in washing at 10 am, it was a clear, hot day with temperatures promised of 42 degrees Celsius. Within  20 minutes the sky went dark brown, and embers started to fall in my garden. The wind had changed direction and suddenly we were in the pathway of the fire. 

The mobile phone rang and my landline, when I answered it was a recorded emergency alert, telling me to leave immediately or prepare to stay and defend. 

I decided that I would leave and then couldn’t think straight at all.. panic… 

5 minutes later my friend rocked up in her car all packed up with dogs and kids,  I realised I had to get my act together, and quick.  Throwing my freshly washed clothes in the car with my 2 dogs , big bag of dog food, dog beds and bowls I left. I forgot my toothbrush, hairbrush,  and  toiletries but I did pack my quilt ” Carousel” that was in the construction phase for the AQC challenge. Obviously my brain was a bit addled! 

We evacuated our homes. It was awful, we weren’t sure what we would return to, if anything. 

That night I was staying at a strangers home in Australind,  Harry and Kim, now  friends,  took in a  tired and shocked woman, with an eclectic array of belongs and two dogs. We stayed for 5 days. 

That night Yarloop was destroyed, 181 properties in total, claimed by the inferno, and tragically two people lost their lives.  

The rumours flooded the evacuation centre,  the meetings held were sombre and quiet as we waited for updates. Some rumours were that Harvey had gone too, that the street behind me had gone, that the fire was going to hit my house and street by the end of the meeting.

None of it was true. 

5 days later I returned to my home, on high alert and in constant fear of having to evacuate again. The big waterbomber “Elvis” the Erikson helicopter flew over my house for days, shaking everything in the house. It was comforting. It refuelled over the road from my house was was an impressive site. 

The fire burned for 12 days, burnt 69,000 ha of land and claimed hundreds of animals, livestock, domestic pets and wildlife. It was heart-breaking. It left a lot of people homeless.  

Two years on..

Community mandalas Yarloop 2016

The Shire of Harvey decided to create an exhibition titled  “Recovery and Regrowth” for January 2018, the second anniversary of the fire,  which would be the end result of 5 workshops held in Harvey, for the communities affected by the fire. Workshops were free and held over a 3 month period, with the exhibition being the showcase of the collective works. It was also open to the public from the Waroona, Yarloop and Harvey towns to created artwork depicting regrowth and recovery.   

The workshops were; Art, Textile, Youth, mosaic and Sculpture. I was asked to lead the Textile Workshop. 

Around the blacked and burnt landscape yarn bombers were attaching Mandalas to the trees, to bring a bit of colour to the landscape. I decided that the Textile project would centre around a Mandala, I had no idea other than that at this stage. 

Over the next 3 months the community created Mandalas, Knitted, crocheted, patchwork and felt, at the Harvey Districts Creative Arts Centre where we gathered over 130 of them in all different sizes . 

As we lay them out on a large pinning table they morphed into the shape of a leaf, the shire emblem at the time was a leaf so we went with the theme. 

This leaf of beautiful, bright, happy, creative Mandalas was HUGE!

A spectacular result.

This HUGE mandala leaf was going to be the centrepiece of the exhibition, it was as large as a king size sheet, and now I had the task of quilting it. My poor little Janome with a 12 inch throat was really put through its paces, the quilt was heavy and kept jerking under the machine as I tried to quilt circles in the background,  but it did it… it took a few days but it was finished. 

It now hangs in the Yarloop Town Hall/ Community Resource Centre. 

The community of Yarloop is rebuilding and reinventing itself. It has a different feel as so much was lost, historic buildings, including The Pub and the Iconic Yarloop Workshops. It took around 30 minutes to destroy the town that fateful night, and its taken over 8 years to recover and regrow. 

Yarloop January 2016
Yarloop Town Hall January 2016
Yarloop Town Hall rebuilt