Motor Car - Bushfire Damaged Holden 48-215, FX, Churchill, 2009.
Image: Benjamin Healley
Source: Museum Victoria
The first batch of bushfire-related items is now on the museum's Collections Online. Established to document the impact of bushfires upon our state, the Victorian Bushfires Collection includes objects, images and stories, and will continue to grow as communities recover from the disaster.
“The potential of the collection is vast,” said Senior Curator Liza Dale-Hallett. “There were over one hundred communities and locations affected by the February 2009 fires.” Some of these communities had a pre-existing relationship with the museum and generously donated material that records their experiences. “People felt this was a major historic moment. Although they’d just lost everything, they knew that what was left was something the museum might value.” Among large objects such as the Kinglake Chimney and the remains of a beloved 1950 FX Holden, communities and individuals have donated domestic objects transformed by fire, often the only trace left of their former lives.
“One of our principal goals is to make this collection accessible online. When they’re ready, communities might want to use the material for their own purposes. People are still trying to get their lives in order so it might take several years before people are able to talk to us about how they can use this collection in rebuilding their histories,” said Liza.
The records represent a range of different localities through powerful, evocative objects and their online presence will grow as they are photographed and documented by the collection’s curators, Liza Dale-Hallett, Rebecca Carland and Peg Fraser. Placing the collection online creates a virtual, perpetual exhibition and ultimately, it will represent a diversity of stories and locations – from public forests through agricultural land and the edge of suburbia – including areas that were not in the media spotlight. The Victorian Bushfires Collection will also preserve the stories of the people impacted by fires, whether directly or as part of the response and cleanup crews.
Liza described the curatorial work as “a very moving process, emotionally quite demanding, and incredibly intimate because you get in touch with what really matters to people. They’ve given us the remnants of things that have been taken away, destroyed or lost forever. It’s a real privilege.” She was especially touched by artworks donated by children from Healesville Primary School, which were exhibited over summer at Melbourne Museum. The drawings and paintings are a vivid account of the children’s experiences. “A lot of those works were done while the kids were surrounded by smoke and emergency vehicles.”
The Victorian Bushfires Collection will be an important record of how we live in an environment so prone to fire. “This is a reality we’ve lived with for a long time,” said Liza, “and we’re not just interested in this last year’s stories, but those from earlier major fires, which are not well documented. This started long before the 7th of February.”
The Victorian Bushfires Collection curators can be contacted through the Discovery Centre.