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Mildura's garden to remember

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Mildura Fire Brigade has built a garden at the station as a way to heal and bring people together. 

Mildura's garden to remember

In a town where gardens are perfectly manicured, offsetting the surrounding desert and salt lakes, the Reflection Garden came from the loss of two much-loved and respected career firefighters based at the Mildura Fire Station in 2016.

Damien Burke and Nathan Shanahan’s deaths shook the CFA family. However, members of Mildura brigade have used their grief to raise awareness about depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and mental health in general among CFA personnel and the wider community.

By shining the light on mental health, the Mildura Fire Station welcomed important initiatives around mental health and wellbeing awareness, which are now being rolled out across CFA. This has helped to further break down the stigma around mental health, and has encouraged team members to have conversations around mental health and to feel comfortable in raising their hand up and saying “I’m not OK”.

The Reflection Garden displays a number of symbols to celebrate and remember Damien and Nathan;

  • The water feature is made of old bridge support beams symbolising an ability to carry a heavy load
  • The brick laid in front of the water feature are from Nathan’s home, and Nathan’s young children both helped lay the bricks with firefighters from the station
  • Each shift have their own garden area, each area is symbolic of the cycle of life
  • The outdoor kitchen is there for the team to spend time cooking and sharing meals together, symbolic of mateship of a fire station.

The holistic concept of a reflection area was not only to build a memorial area but to embrace some of the core strengths that make us such an effective team in difficult times.  

This area was not built by external contractors, but by the men and women from the station themselves giving their personal time to construct an area that can be used for the health and wellbeing of all members on station.

The garden was officially opened on 10 February 2018, and in attendance were a wide range of station and support staff and Damien and Nathan’s families and friends. The feeling on the day was mixed; reflection about loss, but also positive feelings of togetherness, healing and moving forward together.

These tragic events were life changing for those families, friends and colleagues involved. Those affected possess a strong willingness to further advocate for mental health issues and demonstrate a greater sense of resilience and togetherness.

While it is hard for the staff to talk or promote this area because of the nature of its conception, the staff of Mildura feel that it has a strong message that may help others in times of need.

If we are truly going to embrace the concept of empowering people have the strength to say “I’m not O.K” then we need to have the strength to talk openly together.

The garden before

The Reflection Garden after