Spark Bushfire Recovery project - wangaratta art gallery

A tailored creative recovery program for people affected by the 2020 bushfires in the Wangaratta region.

The Spark Bushfire Recovery project has been a 12 month community recovery project delivered by the Wangaratta Art Gallery. Nature journaling workshops, weaving workshops and a community choir provided opportunities for the Wangaratta community to explore their relationship to nature and their connection to community in the aftermath of the 2020 bushfires. The Spark project has focused on bushfire prevention and strengthening community resilience through learning about Indigenous Caring for Country practices. A virtual reality film about local Bpangerang cultural burning practices has been produced as a part of this project. The first of its kind in Australia the virtual reality film immerses viewers in the Wangaratta bush and shares local indigenous cultural knowledge.

"The Spark program has been created with the Wangaratta community at its core, keeping in mind the impact of the bushfires and the pandemic on our community. Spark hopes to create positive experiences for people to reconnect with each other."
Annie Brien - Arts Recovery Program Officer

SPARK WANGARATTA nature journaling workshops with Karen Retra 1
SPARK WANGARATTA nature journaling workshops with Karen Retra 2

In 2022 the Spark Bushfire Recovery Program delivered in-person nature journaling workshops in the Ovens Valley, a community choir in Oxley and Weaving workshops. The nature journaling workshops, held throughout March and May 2022, were led by environmental educator Karen Retra. Karen worked with small groups of people impacted by the 2020 bushfires to support them to connect positively with their local environment and community.

SPARK WANGARATTA choir led by Leonie Brien crop

The community choir began at the end of March and ran weekly for 6 weeks. The choir was located in Oxley to be accessible for community members from both the King Valley, the Ovens Valley and Wangaratta. The choir was led by Leonie Brien and all of the songs focused on joy, hope and inspiration from the natural world.


Filming for the Spark Virtual Reality film began in April 2022, with local Indigenous elders Uncle Darren and Uncle Kevin leading a cultural burn at the Mullinmur Billabong with the support of young Bpangerang community. The filming focused on capturing and sharing indigenous fire management knowledge and provided an opportunity for Bpangerang to pass down knowledge to the younger generations as well as share it with the wider community to understand the positive benefits of cool burning. The purpose of the burn was to rejuvenate the native grasses and create a more habitable environment for the animals as well as reduce fire threat. The filming captured footage throughout the Wangaratta region at the Mullinmur billabong, the Warby Ranges, Paradise Falls in the King valley and the Ovens and King Rivers.


A series of weaving workshops co-delivered by master weaver Cassie Leatham and local Indigenous weavers took place throughout May and June 2022 across four locations; the King and Ovens Valleys, the Warby Ranges and the Mullinmur Billabongs. The workshops used locally sourced natural materials to produce a woven sculpture. The workshop aimed to help participants connect with the land and their local environment and participants were able to share stories and learn about local Indigenous culture. 

The Spark Bushfire Recovery Project culminated in an exhibition and the launch of the Virtual Reality film at the Wangaratta Art Gallery. Over 100 people attended the opening event on 30 July 2022. It was a wonderful opportunity for the community to come together and celebrate the outcomes of the program. The Recovery through Art exhibition was open for three days with the Bitja Wokka (Fire Country) Virtual Reality Film along with a presentation of work produced during the weaving and nature journaling workshops throughout the program. Around 200 people experienced the film and associated exhibition over the three days. 

The Gallery will present additional screening opportunities on 9 & 10 September 2022. Bookings are essential and can be made directly through the Gallery's website here.

The VR Film will be also be available for loan to Community Groups, schools and corporations later in the year. Interested organisations should contact the gallery to register their interest.



Watch the 'Bitja Wokka' (Fire Country) Virtual Reality film trailer

Still from Wangaratta Art Gallery Sprak Bushfire Recovery Program - VR Film

'Bitja Wokka' (Fire Country) Virtual Reality film
A Virtual Reality film about local Bpangerang cultural burning practices has been produced as a part of this project. The first of its kind in Australia the virtual reality film immerses viewers in the Wangaratta bush and shares local indigenous cultural knowledge.
Produced by PHORIA.

project credits

Funded by Regional Arts Victoria, the Victorian Government and Commonwealth Government under the Commonwealth-State Disaster Recovery Funding Arrangements (DRFA). This program has been made possible by the support of Murray PHN Bushfire Recovery Community Wellbeing Program and the Public Galleries Assocaition of Victoria (PGAV).

Images: Courtesy of Wangaratta Art Gallery. 'Spark!' identity design by Merge Studio.

The Public Galleries Association of Victoria (PGAV) acknowledges the Wurundjeri Woi-Wurrung people of the Kulin Nation as the Traditional Owners of the lands where our office is located, and all Traditional Owners of country throughout Victoria and Australia. We recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples enduring traditions and continuing creative cultures. We pay our respect to Elders past, present and emerging.