'Our main target was to thank the children that smashed into their piggy banks and donated to the bushfire appeal. We wanted to say thank you the best way we could - with music, art and performance.' - Ross Buchanan, Kinglake West/Pheasant Creek
On 7 April 2010 a unique and important concert - Thank You Melbourne and Victoria - was staged at Federation Square, Melbourne. During this 10-hour event, over 100 artists, musicians and poets from the bushfire-affected region of the Kinglake Ranges and surrounding communities came together to thank Melbourne and Victoria for the support given in the wake of Black Saturday. 'We are aware that people of Melbourne and Victoria were also deeply affected in the wake of the firestorms of 7 February 2009, and that they gave generously in all ways', stated a press release for the concert, 'this is our chance to thank them and for them to feel connected to their story, the shared story of the largest natural disaster to date.' Despite attracting politicians and well-known sporting and television identities, the concert was explicitly non-political and was organised entirely at a grass-roots level by a group of local community members.
The original idea behind 'Thank You Melbourne and Victoria' emerged just a week after Black Saturday, when Kinglake West/Pheasant Creek local Wally Spezza spoke to his mate and local musician Brett Pollock about the possibility of organising some music gigs. Wally recalls that he wasn't in the mindset to do any organising immediately; along with so many people in his community, Wally had seen the worst of Black Saturday and was physically and emotionally exhausted in its wake. Nevertheless, he had an idea: 'I thought to myself, wouldn't it be good if we just gathered all the local talent in the area and had a big concert to get people's minds away from where they are, and to create something to aim for in the future.' According to Wally, 'it was just a dream really. We thought, let's give the gifts that we have - which is music and art - and give them to the People of Melbourne and Victoria to say thank you.'
This dream became a reality sometime in November/December 2009 when Wally's mate and neighbour Ross Buchanan decided that he wanted to go ahead with the concert. Ross and his wife Rebecca had lost their daughter Neeve (9), son Mackenzie (15) and Rebecca's brother Danny (37) on Black Saturday, and performing musically was something that Ross felt strongly about. He approached Mahony Kiely - a community artist/arts officer from the City of Whittlesea who had been with Rebecca at the Whittlesea Country Music Festival on the day of the fires, and had subsequently become closely involved with the Buchanan family and other members of the Kinglake Ranges community. According to Mahony, 'I had been encouraging Ross to perform as I believed that this might offer him some release. He approached me about the concert and I offered some practical assistance. It was really important that Wally was involved as well, so that we stayed with the original idea and vision for the concert.'
Over the summer months of 2009-2010, Ross, Wally, Mahony and a handful of locals worked together to bring the concert to life. This process involved the collaboration of Glenn Barlow (woodworker) and Ray Brasser (blacksmith) in helping to organise the concert, and in making a Thank You Gift, which is now part of Museum Victoria's Victorian Bushfires Collection. With less than seven weeks between attaining funding and holding the concert, the group worked in Ross's words, 'like underdogs in a grand final' to bring their dream to life: buses were organised to transport locals from the bushfire-affected region to Melbourne, a full day of music was scheduled, videos were filmed of locals saying 'thank you' to be projected on large screens at Federation Square, well-known actors and sporting celebrities were contacted to send messages of support, a website was created and songs and artworks were produced specifically for the day. Despite the fact that the concert organisers were still in the process of grieving and rebuilding their own lives, their shared desire to 'give back' to the Victorian public was a constant motivation. 'Without the support of Melbourne and Victoria we wouldn't be here today', stated Wally at the concert, 'so now it is our turn to say thank you.' During the only official part of the concert, the Thank You Gift was handed over to the Premier of Victoria John Brumby, who accepted it on behalf of the people of Victoria. The Premier donated it to Museum Victoria in June 2010.
Private communication between Catherine McLennan, Wally Spezza, Ross Buchanan, Ray Brasser, Glenn Barlow, Jodie Thorneycroft and Mahony Kiely, Kinglake, September 2010 (Private Hands)
Letter from the Honourable Premier of Victoria John Brumby addressing questions about the Thank You Gift, 27 October 2010.
Thank You Melbourne and Victoria website, www.thankyoumelbourne.com, viewed 15-11-2010.