Cliff: Fireman and Volunteer

I look at the impacts on my involvement in Black Saturday as a volunteer fire fighter and as an employed person with CFA.

Certainly it damaged me for a while.

[LIKE TORTOISES]    Interestingly, I talk to people about it occasionally and I say it’s like you’ve got this hard outer coating that protects you and then something like the Black Saturday fires occurs and it strips it away and so you are left all kind of soft and pink and mushy and quite vulnerable because your hard outer shell has been pulled off. So we are almost like tortoises without shells walking around after the event, that’s how sensitive and vulnerable you could be to life. So it’s, I don’t know, [PTG] it’s perhaps something about growing the shell back or replacing it with something else.

[EPICORMIC GROWTH]    ….My wife and I might drive through a fire affected area and we’d see the trees all bristling with those, umm, fresh green buds that go up and down the trunk: epicormic growth. And we go, “look there is some epicormic growth, it’s come back already”.

I used to look at that and think, yeah, that’s like they’ve lost their hard protective layer and so they are busy putting something back on to recover. I used to get that analogy for my own psychosocial growth and recovery. The way trees would go into that epicormic stage which was almost a (if I understand it right) it’s a last ditch attempt to survive. They use every square millimetre of the surface area to put on leaves so they get the sunlight to survive so they can then recover more permanently with proper growth, if possible, later on.

And I used to look at those trees and think yes, that’s me. I’m out there looking for involvement with communities and projects and things I can get involved in as, in some cases, band-aid solutions to the injuries I had and to then allow me to get into a more permanent growth pattern. So I see a lot of analogies in life, in nature and in society around concepts around growth.

[ONE PROJECT IN PARTICULAR]… Growth has been interesting because I related so intimately to the one project I became involved in. I look at it from a personal view point and also from a professional view point in that the opportunity to become involved through new networks and new communities, in an arts based community led recovery project, was growth. You grew networks, you grew relationships, you grew skills, all things you didn’t have before…

[NEW SKILLS AND OTHER GROWTH]… Simplest example was learning how to be a blacksmith. I had never hit a piece of hot metal with a hammer in my life and yet the project I became involved in, my initial involvement, was learning blacksmith skills to be able to contribute to the project. So that was new skills and through that there were new networks because I became part of a new association of people, built new friendships…For me it was my way of building a relationship with the Bereaved Community because I didn’t live directly in it, I was adjacent to it. …. And for me it was a desire to work with those people in some way, because I felt affected, and I could see they were affected, so for me the growth was in building those relationships.

So it’s a fascinating term to use instead of post-traumatic stress, which is what I’m used to hearing…

[SYMBOLS]… I look at it now and I look at the memorial, the tree project memorial that we grew, and it’s quite symbolic because it’s a tree that grows. So we literally grew a nine meter tall, three tonne stainless steel and copper tree; and we grew it through a global community that came together and wanted to express how they felt as part of their own growth.

So the use of growth applies in so many ways across what I have been through – personal growth, community growth, through to physical growth.

[BENEFITS] The benefits people saw immediately when they became involved in The Tree Project were: we are together, we are sharing something, we are learning things from each other, we’re building new friendships, new networks, we’re growing.

So the problem was a whole lot of people were horrendously affected by Black Saturday Fire. The benefits we could see were somehow these people need to grow and share and become healthier and happier.

When we could see what the benefits would be, the solution just created itself. ..It was never, from the beginning, we are going to create a nine meter tall, 3 tonne, 3,500 leaf stainless and copper tree. So it was an organic process and it did follow that. It allowed people to say we will decide what the benefits are, we know what the benefits will be, we will decide what the solution looks like at the end. It wasn’t until we bolted it down and stood back and looked up that we went “aha” that’s what we’ve done…

…I think, where would I be without that project? No way I’d be here. I have actually stood up in front of 500 people with Amanda [the project manager] to present on this project and I’ve turned to Amanda and I’ve said,

“This project saved my life.

The reason I’m happy and healthy and able to talk to people today is because of this project, and the growth it allowed me to find”.

And there have been beautiful moments along the way.