The Memorial Development Process in Strathewen
The Strathewen community, through the Strathewen Community Renewal Association (SCRA), has expressed a desire to permanently remember the events of 7th February 2009. Developing a memorial or potentially a series of memorials for Strathewen is a way of coming together and publicly expressing remembrance.
To achieve remembrance for Strathewen, a ‘long conversation' with community members has been undertaken to determine the purpose of memorials, how these purposes might be expressed, what elements should be included, along with the siting of a memorial or memorials. These discussions will provide direction for the development of a guiding brief for the design and implementation of memorials which will sensitively represent the Strathewen community's needs and ideas.
Memorials Working Group
SCRA has established a Memorials Working Group to lead the community engagement, planning, development and implementation of memorials for Strathewen. The Memorials Working Group is made up of representatives of the Strathewen community, Nillumbik Shire Council and Red Cross.
The Working Group worked to the following assumptions:
- That memorials may include events, locations and physical structures.
- That community memorials will reflect and allow for remembrance of the range of losses and meet the needs of persons and families affected.
- That community memorials will include a place of quiet contemplation and reflection.
- That the Blacksmith's Tree may form part of a community memorial.
- That a community memorial may attract visitors from outside the area including international.
- Land acquisition or acceptance of donated land may be necessary as there is limited community land on which to site a physical memorial.
- The community engagement process will be extensive and transparent and facilitated by independent and appropriately skilled persons.
- The community engagement process will be staged to allow broad, evolving conversations with in the affected communities.
- The community engagement process will include reporting back to community members on decisions and outcomes.
Memorials Development Process:
Stage 1. Research
- What is the purpose of the memorial/s?
- How should the memorial's meaning be expressed?
- What elements should be included in a community memorial?
- How will commemorative events link with a community memorial/s ?
Stage 2. Exploration
- Are there opportunities or a need for more than one community memorial ?
- What site/s would best suit the memorial/s ?
- What funds are required and available ?
Stage 3. Planning
- Development of a design framework and design brief
- Development of long term maintenance plan
- Development of proposals for commemorative events
Stage 4. Design
- Invitation for Expressions of Interest from designers
- Development of design brief
- Commissioning of concepts from shortlisted designers
- Selection of the successful design.
Stage 6. Implementation
- Construction of memorial/s
Stage 7. Commissioning of memorial/s
Summary of initial stages of the memorial process
Facilitators from Australian Red Cross, experienced in the planning and development of disaster memorials, have been assisting the Strathewen community through the consultation process and the development of memorials for Strathewen.
Two educative sessions were held, in December 2009, and February 2010 aimed at introducing the concept and purpose of remembrance to the Strathewen community and beginning the ‘long discussion'. These sessions were attended by approximately 60 people.
In April 2010, the Memorials Working Group developed a questionnaire, which was sent to people who are members of the Association or are in some way affiliated with Strathewen. In addition, 4 ‘face to face' discussion events were held, along with 2 on-line sessions. 18 people attend the face the face sessions, and there were 34 responses to the questionnaires. There were no attendees for the 2 on-line sessions.
The questionnaire asked four questions, relating to the purpose of the memorial, how this purpose could be expressed, what design elements could be used, and the type of site that would be appropriate for a memorial. The questionnaire also asked whether the Poetry Tree or the Blacksmiths Tree could form the Strathewen memorial.
This process has helped distil how the Strathewen community would like to commemorate the February 7 bushfires, and what happened afterwards. It has also allowed the offer of the Blacksmiths Tree to be placed in context, and given a sense of what role the Poetry Tree will continue to undertake.
Through the consultation process there was demonstrated support for the Blacksmiths Tree to be located in Strathewen. Equally, though, the Strathewen Community expressed a desire for a standalone community memorial, to be separate from the Blacksmiths Tree. An additional round of consultation was sought on the proposal to bring the Blacksmiths Tree to Strathewen. The community was overwhelmingly supportive of the Blacksmiths Tree being located in Strathewen. Generally the view regarding the Poetry Tree was to allow it to remain informal with no intervention or management.
Purpose of the memorial
It was clear that there can be no one story told. The story for each person will be different, and no less or more important than another story. The memorial needs to represent all the losses and impacts of the bushfires.
A memorial will need to be not just for now, but "in perpetuity", recognising that this may change over time, capturing what has happen so it is not forgotten. Some strong themes:
- Respectfully remembering, never to forget
- Be educative, telling the story of Strathewen before during and after the fires
- Recognise that everyone has been impacted through a broad range of losses suffered by Strathewen.
- A place to come to reflect
The following feedback relates to a proposed Strathewen Memorial.
Representing the purpose
A memorial should be simple, not abstract, respectful and tasteful. It could be evolving, and be flexible enough to allow people, families and residents to be able to create their own remembrance within the broader memorial space.
Contemplation may be achieved by having water, still water for reflection, running water representing life. Water is soothing and cooling. It is also the counterpoint to fire.
It should take advantage of the natural setting, rather than formal built structures. It could incorporate elements recovered from homes that are gone, such as china, or glass, in a mosaic form. These items speak directly and privately to those that contributed them, for the rest they are part of the art form.
A path leading to the memorial is important, so you are not overwhelmed when you arrive, so you have time to put the present worries aside, collect your thoughts, and arrive ready. Again, engaging with, not confronted by.
Provide seats, to be able to sit and reflect, and rest. A seat can be purely functional or it can convey a meaning - those that are no longer here.
A symbol of the fires is the shade, black, and its counterpoint green. Yellow is also identified as being significant. Birds also represent life, encouraging birds to come, through nesting boxes makes the memorial a living memorial.
Art/sculpture may provide a stimulus for reflection, an opportunity to symbolise Strathewen. Simplicity is the key.
Allow the facts to do the talking. Evocative text could be misconstrued. It may not represent everyone's story, and how can the horror of the day be captured by words, that which cannot be expressed.
And, because remembrance is "in perpetuity", it needs to look after itself.
Bearing in mind the need for a memorial to be quiet and contemplative, there was a strong sense that that the memorial should be hidden or nestled within a natural setting. This natural setting could have a view or a vista. Being near the creek and running water would also achieve the requirement for water.
The memorial should be nestled for a number of reasons; to allow people their privacy and not to be ogled by passers-by, to provide a degree of shelter and contemplation, and importantly to allow those living in the town not to be reminded of it every day. It is important to engage with the memorial rather than be confronted by it.
Shelter and access are important. The anniversary is in high summer, people visiting will want shelter from the elements. It should be accessible for all, particularly as time moves on and we all become less mobile. Close to amenities is also seen as important.
It should be in a public space. Public land is common ground and belongs to all. Public land also has a practical benefit, in that the council or other responsible authority may take responsibility for maintenance of the area.
A number of public and private sites have been either examined, or offered including the Hall Site, Poetry Tree Site, Recreation Reserve, and private properties in Bowden Spur Rd, Gregory's Lane, and Chads Creek Road.
These sites were assessed against criteria developed by the Memorials Working Group, and further refined through the consultations. These include; parking, accessibility, shade, facilities, stable land, public/community land, privacy, vistas, running water and bush setting.
After assessment and consideration, the site felt to most appropriately meet the needs for a memorial space is the northern part of the Strathewen Recreational Reserve. The Poetry Tree site does not have adequate parking or toilets, and is not a private place. The hall site is also not a private place, and may be considered for the Blacksmiths Tree. The rebuilt hall will also form part of the remembrance for Strathewen. The parcels of private land generously offered, unfortunately did not meet many of the criteria.