Quaama sculpture proves craft trumps calamity

Students impacted by the 2019 bushfires have turned a charred tree into an artwork. Kerrie O’Connor reports on a wonderful example of community.

Image: From the ashes: Quaama Public School students Velvet Ventura and Stevie Whitby with the tree trunk they helped carve after it fell on the home of learning support office Barb Fenwick.

When a flaming tree smashed through her roof, Barb Fenwick could not imagine an upside.

Now, students have helped transform that charred Cypress pine into an intricately carved artwork for Quaama Public School.

The tree that fell in the 2019-20 bushfires stands proud at the Far South Coast school where Barb works as a learning support officer, adorned with images of creatures who also suffered, including a kookaburra, a cockatoo and a kangaroo.

“The kids all love the animals,” Ms Fenwick said. “It is amazing.”

Quaama students Stevie Whitby and Velvet Ventura carved the trunk with 50 students at a Sapphire Coast Learning Community art camp.

Both girls were evacuated in the fires and lived with fear and disruption for weeks.

They worked under the guidance of Wolumla Public School principal Peter Claxton, who began his career as an aide at Quaama.

Mr Claxton delighted everyone by returning the carving to the school, completing a circle and proving craft trumps calamity.

“It tells a story and everyone who has been affected by the fires has carved it,” Velvet, a Year 4 student, said.

“It has a memory that comes with it,” Stevie, in Year 5, said. “It’s not just a plain old tree.”

Ms Fenwick lives on a small farm near the school.

She lost two beloved old ponies in the fire, her home and farm buildings were damaged and livestock yards and fencing destroyed.

Mr Claxton returned to help the village.

“We dragged the tree down the paddock and Pete said, ‘Barb, I want that tree’,” Ms Fenwick recalled.

“He was already thinking about what he could do for the community. He wanted it to come back to Quaama.

“Pete is an amazing teacher and always thinking about our community.”

Mr Claxton worked with the Arts Unit to support students after the bushfires.

“We decided to hold a Creative Arts camp so students from all communities within the Sapphire Coast Learning Community might get chance to find some joy in creativity after being affected by so much loss and destruction,” he said.

“This is where the carving began its journey, and there is a small part of everyone's story who attended that camp etched into it.”

Incoming Quaama Public School principal Daniel Roe was packing in Broken Hill for his new role when he learned fire had struck the village.

“The school was saved, but was significantly damaged,” he said.

“The grounds were singed and burned, the laser light roofing burned, almost all the grass, playground equipment and landscaping.”

Mr Roe said the carving helped children process the fires.

“We had seven families out of 30 lose everything,” he said. “Everyone lost sheds, fences, motorbikes, pets, livestock. Kids lost their holidays, they spent it in evacuation centres. Some were evacuated four times.”

He said the students were fascinated by how such a large piece of wood could be converted into something so detailed.

“Even though there were challenging and scary experiences, we have this sculpture that reminds of us what a lovely and vibrant community we live in.

“Gifts like this emphasise how small communities can bounce back even though tragic things happen.

“It has been a wonderful experience to be sitting in school which has overcome so much adversity and challenges to be a really, calm, peaceful and productive environment."

He paid tribute to Ms Fenwick, who lived in caravans and tents after the fire.

“She is a battler from the bush who loves her community and school, who will do anything to make sure the kids have what they need,” Mr Roe said.

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