This artwork was created by Chenile, a Grade 5 student from Healesville Primary School, as part of an art project that took place during the time of the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires.
The story of Sam the Koala captured the world's attention in the aftermath of Black Saturday, and the children of Healesville were no exception. Chenile has depicted the story from the koala's point of view.
'What is that?' was one of the artworks on display in the Melbourne Gallery at Melbourne Museum from 29 November 2009 to 31 January 2010.
Mixed media on paper. A humanoid koala on its hind legs, with a bottle of blue water marked H2O
This painting is a direct and permanent connection to the Black Saturday bushfires, the most devastating in Victoria's recorded history.
It is a first-hand account of a child's experience through the bushfires, and is part of a collection of artworks produced by children at Healesville Primary School during the bushfires in February 2009.These pieces are important because they give us a rare opportunity to represent the experiences of children during a time of crisis. They remind us that children were present in every bushfire-affected area, and that their response is uniquely shaped by their age and experience.
The artworks are both documentary, in that they give us a first-hand account of children's experience through the fires, and symbolic, because they represent children everywhere who felt the impact of Black Saturday. Their importance as historical documents is based not so much on the breadth or accuracy of their content as on their immediacy. These pieces were created during the time that Healesville was under direct threat from the fires, and are vivid, striking portraits of the town through an emergency.
In the aftermath of the 2009 bushfires, art-making was one of the tools to help children express and begin to make sense of their experiences through the emergency. These artworks symbolise the resilience of children through times of trauma and acknowledge the importance of the efforts that addressed the psychological as well as the physical recovery of bushfire survivors.
This painting also represents the effect of the bushfires on communities that were not destroyed but were severely affected by the fire and the succeeding emergency efforts. Although most attention has been justifiably directed to communities like Kinglake and Marysville which suffered great damage and loss of life, the painting is a reminder of the physical and psychological impact of the bushfires beyond their actual range.
Place & Date Depicted
Date of Event
Type of item
380 mm (Length), 280 mm (Height)
Dimensions are approximate
Rachel Skinner, 'Helping children cope with trauma,' Shine: a publication of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development, 2: March 2009, 50-55.