Victoria's bushfire history preserved in online memorial map
Documenting Victoria’s bushfires offers a way to understand and learn from the past. Now, Museums Victoria has developed a commemorative map that makes some of the state's bushfire memorials accessible online, providing a fresh opportunity to reflect on the ongoing impacts of bushfire.
Please note this article references bushfire and its aftermath.
A lone chimney stands among the trees of Melbourne Museum’s Forest Gallery.
It once sat at the heart of a grand homestead known as 'The Uplands.'
Built in the late 1890s, 'The Uplands' was a centrepoint for the Kinglake community.
For many years a variety of community events took place within its grounds.
This chimney is all that remains of the historic building after bushfires swept through the region in February, 2009.
In the aftermath of the fires, the chimney was carefully dismantled. Each brick was numbered and cleaned and then the chimney was rebuilt in the heart of Melbourne Museum's Forest Gallery.
The chimney is now a memorial, a powerful symbol of the impact of bushfires on both Victoria's landscape and communities.
It is also a site for commemoration and contemplation, and a reminder of the importance of retaining and reflecting on difficult moments of our past.
The Uplands Chimney is now part of the Victorian Bushfires Collection. Established by Museums Victoria in the wake of the 2009 bushfires, the collection documents the impact and experience of fire in Victoria since colonisation.
Sam Bateman, Curator Collection Development Victorian Bushfires, explains: ‘We live in an exceptionally fire prone part of the world, and the consequences of this are only increasing in magnitude. So museums are instrumental in educating the community on this reality and interrogating what the past can teach us about our present and our future.’
Museums Victoria is one of a number of organisations and individuals that work to collect history, stories and lessons about bushfire for the benefit of the community.
But Sam says it's important to acknowledge that no institution can be the keeper of all bushfire histories.
‘These stories live out in the community and in people's memories and experiences, in family stories and scars left on the landscape, in memorials that are found and memorials that were never made.’
Commemorative Map Project
Show/hide memorials by year
In 2023 Museums Victoria staff set out to add a further element to the Bushfires Collection by documenting a series of bushfire memorials around the state.
In the aftermath of Black Saturday 59 memorials were built across Victoria to commemorate the event, with consultation and involvement of affected communities. Some of these now appear on the commemorative map and can be visited virtually, along with other older (and newer) memorials across the state, from simple plaques to murals, rotundas or road stops that recall and remember both loss and recovery. The Uplands chimney is among them.
John Broomfield, Museums Victoria manager of Photography and Imaging, led the team that set out to document some of the state’s memorials during a series of overnight field trips, with the intent of building a comprehensive map that could take users to memorials they otherwise might never access.
‘One of the main aims for us was to be able to take people from their living rooms to experience these memorials in situ because they are spread out all across Victoria,’ John says. ‘And so being able to incorporate virtual tours as well as sound allowed us to immerse people in those environments.’
John’s team used 360 degree cameras to create virtual tours of many sites.
‘When you're creating a virtual tour, you have to put yourself in the perspective of the viewer. You set yourself up and think well, where would I go to next, what's the point of interest?
‘But of course, when you shoot 360 everything's in sight so we used an app to control the camera. We’d be able to set the timer on and have plenty of time to go and hide behind a tree.’
They then set up a microphone to record the natural sound at each location.
The resulting commemorative map provides a home for the collected material, as well a way to experience these memorials and to reflect on the breadth of Victoria's bushfire experience.
‘It's important to document memorials for the same reason that a memorial exists in the first place,’ Sam says. ‘It's an act of remembrance.
‘We need to be able to make accessible sites of mourning and remembrance and commemoration for the people of Victoria. There's almost no one in the state not affected by bushfires in some small or large way these days.’
Uplands Chimney in the Forest Gallery Photo: Benjamin Healley/Museum Victoria
Uplands Hotel Postcard 1906 Source: Museums Victoria Public Domain
Uplands chimney in aftermath of bushfire Photo: Rodney Start/Museums Victoria
Uplands chimney in Forest Gallery Photo:Benjamin Healley/Museum Victoria