Eungella residents express recovery from harrowing bushfires through art and film

Colleen James and other members of the Eungella township will come together in healing this Saturday (April, 24) to launch an art exhibition, film and book commemorating their recovery from the devastating bushfires that ravaged the community in 2018.

The event, which was supported, co-funded and mentored by the Central Queensland Regional Arts Services Network (CQRASN), is the culmination of 18 months of hard work and resilience by the residents, who have used artistic expression as a way of coping with the impact of the fires.

About 110 000 hectares of pristine rainforest was destroyed around the mountaintop town west of Mackay in 2018. Although no homes were lost in the fires, the psychological and economic impacts from the loss of tourism to the area were significant.

With CQRASN’s assistance and support from Mackay Regional Council, the Red Cross and Queensland Health counsellors, the community has created artwork, including a book, and a documentary-style film.

Colleen, an artist for more than four decades, has lived in the Eungella area for eight years and was instrumental in helping those affected find solace through art.

“I live right in Eungella and although my home wasn’t damaged, we did have to evacuate and there was still all that fear and worry,” she said.

“When you’re away from your home there’s so much anxiety about whether your home is still there.”

CQRASN supported Eungella residents in their recovery process by mentoring and assisting local community coordinators to organise numerous art workshops, including some that were facilitated by Colleen.

“The workshops allowed the people to express their feelings,” she said.

“I took charcoal from the trees that were burned and encouraged the residents to draw with them.

“Part of my training as an artist involved art psychology and art therapy and producing art promotes awareness of experiences which in turn, can facilitate healing.”

CQRASN contributed $10 000 towards the project, as did the Mackay Regional Council through the Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF).

Mackay Regional Council Mayor Greg Williamson said the resilience residents have demonstrated throughout the recovery process has been outstanding.

“These creative projects in particular have been instrumental in allowing people (young and old) within our rural communities to work through and deal with their trauma in a creative manner,” he said.

“From something so traumatic such as these catastrophic fires, people have been able to develop new skills, build networks and connections while sharing their stories.”

The exhibition and launch of the Eungella’s Range Ablaze book and Eungella film will be held at Eungella Community Hall, 4 North Street, Eungella on Saturday April, 24 from 10.00 – 11.30am. Due to COVID restrictions, numbers for the event are limited.

The Eungella Men’s Shed will also be held after Saturday’s Bush Fire Recovery, film and book launch. Blacksmithing was also one of the many artistic outlets residents used as part of the recovery project. It was also funded by State Bush Fire Recovery Funding, with the Blacksmithing element linking the two projects.

Eungella Men's Shed open day will be held at the Hall from 10am-2pm with a fundraising sausage sizzle from 12pm.

The Regional Arts Services Network is an initiative of the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland. CQUniversity has been appointed as the Central Queensland provider.