A MOUNT Eliza children’s book illustrator is playing a role in helping children overcome the ordeals they experienced during the East Gippsland region’s terrifying 2019-20 bushfires.
The Heroes of Black Summer picture book tells the stories of the “heroes” who helped protect them and, through this, aims to help children process the trauma without suffering stress, anxiety or depression.
Karen Erasmus, who has lived in Mount Eliza for 15 years, drew 16 full-page illustrations in the book which was written by Kylie Miller and Craig Sheather and published by Australian Geographic. It was published with a One Good Community Wellbeing Grant through Gippsland Primary Health Network.
More than half of East Gippsland was burnt in the fires, which raged for three months and had a devastating and long-lasting impact on the community.
Erasmus said she and the authors hoped Heroes of Black Summer would promote resilience in children, while strengthening their connection with adults in their families as they read, heal and look at the pictures together.
“Kylie is a Gippsland woman who is really enthusiastic about celebrating what people did in fighting the fires, rescuing wildlife and saving their communities,” Erasmus said, while driving down to Buchan to help launch the book last week.
“My favourite picture is the one of the lady and her lemon tree. It stands out from the others as it’s a calm summery garden picture, and it’s about the author of the book.”
She was referring to author Miller’s own experience of receiving the tree donated through a pay-it-forward scheme run by Nowa Nowa general store and planting it in her burnt-out Wairewa orchard as a sign of re-emergence.
Heroes of Black Summer captured moments, including the rescue of endangered species by wildlife experts, the Royal Australian Navy’s rescuing of people from the beach at Mallacoota, Bairnsdale police saving a kangaroo from the flames, a Mallacoota boatie rescuing stranded hikers, a pay-it-forward scheme set up by Nowa Nowa general store to share donations, volunteers preparing meals at Sarsfield using food donated by local businesses, a Bruthen wildlife carer who took in burnt and homeless wildlife, a young hunter who rescued injured and hungry koalas at Mallacoota, two Sarsfield brothers who lost their home then built fences as Blaze Aid volunteers, Canadian firefighters who helped repair damage at Buchan, and Parks Victoria habitat experts who surveyed the damage by air.
The authors said it was impossible to include everyone who gave so much to the community during that awful time … “from the CFA firefighters and volunteers who were out there day-in-day-out for months, police, emergency workers, charities and service organisations, government agencies, and all the generous people and businesses who donated,” Miller said.
“Many of them had been impacted by fire themselves and their generosity was overwhelming. By writing this book, we hope to say thank you and give something back ourselves.”
Gippsland Primary Health Network CEO Amanda Proposch said books were important resources in helping children deal with trauma, including bushfires. “We were delighted to support the book and hope it will provide our communities with a helpful resource to manage stress, anxiety and depression to support healing and recovery,” she said.
Five hundred copies will be donated to children and communities impacted by the bushfires, and 25 per cent of proceeds from sales will go to the Gippsland Emergency Relief Fund.
Heroes of Black Summer is available at bookshops or online.