In the two years since the Black Summer bushfires, cattle farmer Gillian Fahle has been the benefactor of many people’s kind actions as the scorched country around her has slowly regenerated.

Pivotal to Ms Fahle’s personal recovery has been artist Kirrily Anderson, who arrived in Walwa to study the recovering landscape in the wake of so much devastation.

Based in Chiltern in northern Victoria, Ms Anderson said she became inspired to create a new range of works after combing through the destruction left by the fires around the North East and Upper Murray regions of Victoria.

A woman draws a picture surrouded by art supplies and an ipad

Artist Kirrily Anderson has been creating works inspired by nature’s recovery from the Black Summer bushfires. (ABC Rural: Annie Brown)

A painting of rocks and debris

Kirrly Anderson’s ink and watercolour pieces feature in her exhibition And Tomorrow the Beauty Returns.(Supplied: Manifeasto Photography)

In her latest exhibition, And Tomorrow the Beauty Returns, Ms Anderson takes a closer look at what was left behind on properties like Ms Fahle’s cattle farm near Walwa.

“Gil and I talked a lot about how the rain affected them,” Ms Anderson said. 

“Even just a small amount of rain would wash rocks down and block them in. 

“But the flipside of it is when I looked at the rocks — they were so beautiful, these pink granite rocks.

The art of recovery

In her 40 years of farming, Ms Fahle says the 2019-20 Black Summer bushfires were the toughest experience of her life and she feels fortunate her family didn’t lose their home or any cattle.

“You can’t imagine how quickly it happened, but also the roar of it when it got into the bush,” Ms Fahle said.

“The flames were so high and it took [only] minutes to get from here to the top of Burrowa Pine Mountain, with this roar that sounded like jets taking off.”

a collection of rocks and charcoal on a table

Pink granite rocks and charcoal collected from farms in the Upper Murray.(ABC Rural: Annie Brown)

Ms Fahle said creating artworks had helped in her mental health recovery and had also led to forming a regular painting group with her neighbours.  

“My two friends, Ronda and Gayle, asked me to paint with them, which came around about the same time I met Kirrily,” she said.

Three middle-aged women, two standing behind one sitting, all smiling, on a wide verandah

Neighbours Gayle Lee (back left), Gillian Fahle (back right) and Ronda Teakel get together to paint. (ABC Rural: Annie Brown)

“And that’s from seeing it through different eyes, which Kirrily and the others have helped me do.”

Ms Anderson said art played an important role in recovering from traumatic events.

“I think it creates a sense of ownership of something,” she said.

Green grass grows in front of a mountain

Gil Fahle’s property backs onto Burrowa Pine Mountain National Park. (ABC Rural: Annie Brown)

Painting a positive picture for community

After a wet spring, the Upper Murray is looking lush and green as the landscape recovers.

Ms Fahle said the community seemed to be recovering well thanks to a good season.

“Most of the people here are cattle farmers and I think because we’ve had a good season with cattle prices, that has helped a lot,” she said.

“There’s been a huge amount of assistance as well — the shire has been wonderful and I think everyone has been friendlier and most caring, which is pretty good.”

Ms Fahle encouraged anyone going through recovery to consider taking up a brush or a pencil and to try to “look for the beauty”.

“If you’re looking for beauty you can find it, can’t you?” Ms Fahle said. 

“Maybe I’m lucky because I’m surrounded by beautiful people, but I think it can make a huge difference up in our heads.”

‘There was still beauty to be found’: Artist’s creative eye helps farmers’ bushfire recovery
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