As the Bega Valley steps forward bravely in its recovery from the March 18 bushfires, the power of storytelling is coming into play with a new project aimed at capturing the history and humanity of this event.
The idea comes from people across the region who in some shape or form have been touched by the flames that moved through Reedy Swamp, Vimy Ridge, and Tathra on that Sunday afternoon and what has followed.
Tathra’s John Plumb stayed in town that day fighting hard to save houses, he says putting his experience down on paper to be very healing.
“For me seeing my story on paper really helped my recovery,” he says.
“For many people, it might be too raw to tell their story now, but this project will take a while and might help people at different times as they begin to recover.”
About a dozen people have started to come together around the idea of gathering the personal stories of this event; with the working title of “Stories of March 18”.
Jan Harris from Vimy Ridge is also part of the group, her family home was one of the 65 destroyed.
“I am just one of many stories, I would love to see them all together – a treasure chest that will help us grow stronger,” Jan says.
“Hopefully by telling and sharing our stories we can come to terms with what has occurred and look to the future.”
The group is made up of people who all had different experiences on that day 14 weeks ago including people whose homes were destroyed, people who stayed to defend their home and others, people who were evacuated to Bega, Bermagui and beyond, people called into the firefighting effort, and people whose homes were saved but are heartbroken at the impact this has had on the community and environment they love.
At this stage, the Stories of March 18 steering group is simply interested in collecting stories in whatever format people are comfortable expressing themselves.
Each story will be held in confidence – a trove of experience, wisdom, grief, community, love, and more.
Storytelling nights, video, writing and art workshops, and oral histories are also being considered.
“We want this to represent and reflect the full range of experiences people have had, this experience has affected people in different ways, every story is valid,” John says.
“And I really hope by telling our stories we’ll help other communities learn from our experience,” he says.
People are invited to make contact and perhaps share their story; a dedicated email address has been set up as an initial starting point – firstname.lastname@example.org
For those not online, secure collection boxes will soon be located at Bega, Bermagui, Tura, and Eden Libraries and at the Tathra Post Office and Tathra Surgery.
Each story will be treasured, with every contributor kept informed as the process moves forward during the months ahead.
“We aren’t sure what the end result will be, we are keeping an open mind at this stage and simply want to provide people with a safe place to express themselves,” Jan says.
The steering group plan on meeting regularly and will keep the community informed as the idea grows.
To share your story or idea or find out more email email@example.com please make sure you include your name and contact details with your contribution.
Image: The Stories of March 18 steering group are meeting regularly at Tathra Hotel. From left to right; Ian Campbell, Kym Mogridge, Chris Nicholls, John Plumb, Jo Dodds, Lucy Spittle, Jan Harris, John Harris, Leanne Atkinson, Jim Kelly, Rhonda Bradford, Peta Doherty, Jani Klotz.
John Plumb – 0419 533 772, Jan Harris – 0429 042 343, Rhonda Bradford –0458 106 742, Ian Campbell – 0417 482 171.