A new mural on the iconic Orbost Club Hotel acknowledges the incredible commitment of emergency services workers including CFA members during the 2019-20 bushfires.
During the campaign fires of 2019-20, a community meeting was held at the Orbost Club Hotel for locals to be briefed by Victoria Police, fire, Ambulance Victoria and community leaders about the pending emergency.
It was 2 January 2020 and the sky was already dark with smoke. High temperatures and strong north-westerly winds were expected to put Orbost under threat within 24 to 28 hours. Community members were advised to leave immediately before it was too late, particularly with the highway and local roads likely to be impacted by fire.
Orbost Captain Geoffrey ‘Dick’ Johnstone was at that community meeting, having only recently returned from a five-day deployment supporting colleagues in NSW. Defending his community and surrounding areas with his brigade members was now his priority.
The forecasted conditions came to pass, as three separate large fires joined, surrounding the town in a wall of flames.
Crews battled to save surrounding properties and assets as ember attacks sparked spot fires within Orbost’s boundaries. The wall of fire came within mere kilometres of the town before a freak wind change pushed the fire back on itself. While the feed, stock and asset losses were devastating, crews had saved Orbost as well as the Newmerella township and Marlo village.
More than two years have passed since the fires and the Orbost Club Hotel is now home to a mural honouring those emergency services members who fought to protect their community and its people.
The mural is one of more than 20 projects funded by EMV under the SES/CFA Wellbeing Recovery Project which aims to support the psychological recovery of first responders and their families following the 2019-20 bushfires.
Painted by Bairnsdale artist Tracey Soloman (pictured below), the design was chosen following consultation with local emergency services including Orbost Fire Brigade and Orbost SES to acknowledge all the hard work of members and staff during the Black Summer fires.
The mural shows Geoffrey as the representative for CFA, plus members from SES, Victoria Police, Ambulance Victoria, DELWP and the Fijian Army.
A CFA member for more than 40 years and Orbost captain for 14, Geoffrey said the mural is an important way to recognise the efforts of all agencies during the fires.
“It has been a challenging time for our members and community since the fires,” he said.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic hitting so soon after the fire season, we just didn’t have the time we would normally have to debrief, and with restrictions we weren’t able to have that time together as a group.
“It was scary for a lot of people especially those who were travelling in the area at the time. It wasn’t something many had ever experienced.
“I think the recovery work has given people a focus and helped with the healing process.
“The mural will be an ongoing tribute to all emergency service members involved in the 19-20 season and provide a reminder of the work we do together to keep our communities safe.”
Tracey worked with local agencies to create the work using photos she had taken of the available members involved in the fires.
A volunteer Junior CFA member in her youth, Tracey said it was a privilege to work on the project.
“My family lives in Orbost and I know how hard it was for them following the fires,” Tracey said.
“The contribution of volunteers was enormous, and they still haven’t had a chance to really recover with the COVID-19 pandemic declared soon after.
“I hope that the mural honours their efforts and sacrifice and also in some way helps members and their community to recover.”