Black Saturday
William Strutt, ‘Bushfire sketch’, oil on artist board, c 1851.

Last night I went to a talk at the State Library of Victoria. Two speakers helped us to Remember Black Saturday, five years on and look at how the history and memories of the event continues to shapes lives.

Our two speakers were:

  • Liza Dale-Hallett – Curator in charge of developing the Victorian Bushfires Collection at Museum Victoria.
  • Robert Kenny – Historian and Author who writes about his own personal experience of the day.

Liza shared with us a presentation that left me breathless. She brought to light the loss of life a fire can produce, particularly the loss of wildlife in the area. We always hear of the loss of human life in these situations but what about the animals? Do we have sufficient care strategies in place for them? Or in our efforts to rebuild are we also destroying their homes?

Liza brought to light the mounts of material things that people lose in bushfires, the most significant being a loss of identity. How do you prove you are a fire victim/survivor if you don’t have any identification tying you to your address? How do you get money out of the bank to feed and clothe your family if your keycard has gone up in flames? We put a lot of stock on our material possessions and a natural disaster proves just how lost we can be without them.

It was these types of twisted and burnt material possessions, donated by people who lived through Black Saturday that Liza was put in charge of to make a collection. A point raised on the night was how does one curate a collection based on items that are damaged? It is the complete opposite of what are normal criteria of museum acquisition. Liza told us she and her team fumbled blindly through the task for two years but they ended up with a result she is happy with. The items she has put into this collection warn more vividly than an emergency poster the upheaval natural disasters cause.

Perhaps this is something Museums and Libraries can capitalise on? A way to help educate children of what they should do in case of fire, flood or earthquake? I took my son to Romp n Stomp at Melbourne Museum this year and there were CFA people everywhere. What an opportunity to tie together collections of Black Saturday and experience of fire fighters to help children understand why this knowledge is so very important to have.

I have attended ALIA and VALA events, and Melbourne Conversations at the Library at the Dock. Those events were professionals and students coming together to discuss professional matters.

Last night was different, it was not just a group of Curators, Museum folk, Authors and Academics coming to discuss the legacy of Black Saturday. It was personal. I sincerely thank all those who came and shared their stories, I am so incredibly humbled by your experiences. You made Black Saturday come alive for me in a way no news bulletin ever could.

Thank you.