The Australian Blacksmiths Association (Victoria) Inc. is asking blacksmiths worldwide to help us create a forged gumtree. This tree will be a memorial to the people who lost their lives in the 7 Feb bushfires, to honour the tireless people who defended others and to stand as a symbol of regeneration for the community. The ABA (Vic) blacksmiths will undertake to forge the trunk and branches of the tree and attach each leaf. The tree will be made of stainless steel and the leaves and branches will be TIG welded or brazed. Leaves are to be made of stainless steel or copper. The tree will be installed in a public place in one of the affected townships. The Australian Blacksmiths Association is honoured to co-ordinate The Tree Project and be party to the solidarity of blacksmiths worldwide. We undertake to receive your hand-forged gum leaves and faithfully produce a beautiful and lasting memorial.
Nearly half the leaves which will be on the tree are sponsored by individuals. Each of these leaves carries a name or a message nominated by the sponsor. Between March and September this year, sponsors have raised enough money for the materials and construction of the tree. Many of these sponsors live in fire-affected areas, some sponsors are members of recovery organisations, CFA teams and local businesses and some are people living interstate and overseas who wanted to express their support and empathy for the recovering communities.
Although Australians are used to living with the threat of bushfires, the fires on Saturday 7 February were beyond anything anyone had ever seen or imagined. The weather on that day was extremely hot and windy. The temperature reached 47°C (117°F) and gusting winds travelled at 120 km/h (75 mph), (later growing up to 200 km/h (124 mph) ahead of the fire front.) When small fires started in these conditions, in areas suffering drought, they quickly grew to an inferno, the speed and intensity of which has never been seen before. Flames were seen to reach up to 50 meters, creating a life-threatening zone of searing heat up to 200 meters ahead of the fire front.
As the huge fires approached towns, many people who tried to defend their properties or shelter in cellars did not survive, such was the ferocity and heat. Many tried to escape in their cars and perished. The roads after the fire, particularly in Kinglake and Kinglake West, were blocked with burnt wrecks. At the time of writing this, 173 people have been declared dead and thousands are without their homes. Some people are still missing.
In Strathewen alone, a small community of 200 people, over 30 perished in the fire and less than 15 homes are left standing. Entire townships such as the beautiful Marysville and Kinglake have been virtually wiped out. In relief centers we have seen people who have lost their wife or husband, both parents or their children. Farmers have lost their livelihood; their property, tractors, crops and animals destroyed. Schools, community halls, hotels, and businesses lie in ruins.
The Country Fire Authority (CFA) is an incredible group of people who volunteer their time to defend people and property in country areas from fire. The actions of the CFA on Saturday 7 February saved many lives. Some of the firefighters who continued fighting the fires for days did so despite losing their own family members and homes in the fire. In a heartfelt speech at the Arthur’s Creek Relief Centre, three days after the fire, CFA Captain David McGahy touched locals with his words,
“I’m so terribly sorry. We desperately wanted to protect you but we couldn’t... I’ve been at this game for 40 years and I haven’t experienced anything like that, not even remotely like it.”
The CFA was not alone. Local people joined to rescue others, build firebreaks and defend property. Remarkable stories of courage are emerging.
We remember with gratitude all those fire-fighters that attended from every state in Australia, in addition to those from overseas from USA, Canada & New Zealand. Two fire-fighters from interstate lost their lives in these fires.
We remember also the State Emergency Service, the Red Cross, the Australian Army, Victorian and interstate Police, banks, businesses, local and federal politicians and many, many volunteers. In part, it is the efforts of these people we commemorate.
The Association aims to promote and develop the art of the blacksmith. We foster communication, training and exchange of ideas among blacksmiths and encourage a greater awareness of the craft among the public through exhibitions and demonstrations.
The recent fires in Victoria have directly affected some of our members, most tragically a Kinglake blacksmith who lost family members in the fire. The Tree Project is important to us as a symbol of remembrance for the lives lost and for the people who fought to save lives. It is also a monument to renewal and to the spirit of fraternity that springs from skilled blacksmiths across Australia and around the world.