Household items salvaged from the ashes are being turned into artworks that tell a story of recovery.
This mosaic tells Liz's story. Spelt out in broken pieces found in the ashes after the bushfires. First come the colours of drought, then a ring of fire and one of flood, and right at the centre the gentle re-emerging of green trees.
After fire tore through the quiet community of Nymboida in NSW's Northern Rivers in November, little was saved in the remains of many homes.
A favourite mug, a broken plate from a hundred dinners, part of a kitchen tile.
Local artist Pamela Denise saw the potential for these shattered reminders to help heal.
“Telling the story is a healing process. With so many people affected it’s a lot of trauma to take in if you were sitting around and just talking and listening. But by what we're doing, we're making art, working on our own mosaics.
‘It doesn’t matter that people can't see what it is, the most important thing is that the mosaic has a meaning.”
With financial support from Red Cross, the Nymboida community is holding two recovery mosaic workshops led by Pamela.
Before the workshops, participants sift through the remains of their homes and bring along items they find. These are mixed with mosaics Pamela has savage from her art workshop, lost in the fires.
“One lady had only one plate that had survived the bushfires,” our long time local Emergency Services volunteer Jan Johnson explains.
But even a single broken plate can turn into a story, transform into a beautiful bird bath and be filled with memory and hope.
A fire damage toll of 85 homes is high under any circumstances. But in Nymboida, a community of just 298 people, it is devastating.
Few locals were unaffected, including Pamela who lost her beloved art studio and workshop in the fires.
“It's been such a tragic time. We stayed and successfully defended our little house, but lost all our sheds, gardens, outbuildings, watering systems, orchards, netted veggie garden and shade houses. My dear chooks, special things, and useful things, including my Art Shed, which was a collection of resources, equipment, materials, files, artworks, mine and other artists that I had collected. All gone!
“I lost my livelihoods, the arts practice and all my horticulture.”
Recovery is a long road that needs stops like these artistic moments along the way.
“Everyone's story has touched me,” Pamela says. “I see their stories in the mosaics. Instead of upsetting me though, it has helped me process what has happened to us. To stitch it together in some sort of tapestry.”
“It was really good therapy," Jan adds. "Most people shared experiences with everyone, and found it great that they could share their stories with ones that had experienced the same.
“There were lots of laughs, a few giggles and some cries.
“But at the end of the day we’ve got a good thing out of a bad thing. These bird baths will bring the birds, the bees and the butterflies back again.”
And each bird bath will tell a story of picking up the pieces and starting to recover.