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Out of the Ash – A Bushfire Song

In February 2009 our region was thrown into chaos by the dreadful bushfires that decimated the district and stole away our friends and family, homes and more. Our group, the Whittlesea Township Choir, were all affected, as were all local people.

Every time the choir met to sing, the time was dominated by talk of the fires and everyone’s experiences and sad tales. I can’t remember who’s idea it was but a suggestion emerged to write about this overwhelming event in a song.

After our fulfilling experience writing our first original song, “Whittlesea Town”, in 2008 with Sue Johnson, we felt we could initiate our own project and write a song around our experience in the February 2009 Bushfires.

We put together a Grant Application to Creative Victoria, then Arts Victoria (which we thought was very good) and submitted it. It involved a plan of how the process would be structured and the costs involved.

We didn’t get the grant.

Not to be deterred, some funds appeared from elsewhere.

A local Community group had some Bushfire project funding unspent (from DPCD) and offered it to the Neighbourhood House where we were based. The manager of the Neighbourhood House suggested our Song Writing Project to the committee and they agreed to use it to fund the venture.

Our renewed plan was much more modest and involved a lot of volunteer input from the choir and in particular the choir leader. We asked Sue Johnson if she would work with us again on composing the song.

All of the choir members contributed  ideas in the form of poems, stories, and spoken reminiscences and these were developed into poem form by a professional author, the wonderful Sally Rippin. Out of the Ash had been born, amidst lots of tears and camaraderie.

Our musician, Sue Johnson,  then set the lyrics to music and the drafting and feedback process got underway. After many re-drafts the song was finished in June 2010.

Kerry Clarke, Sue Johnson & Suzanne Coburn at the CD launch
Kerry Clarke, Sue Johnson & Suzanne Coburn at the CD launch

We approached our local council, the City of Whittlesea, for a small grant to record and publish the song on a CD. Thanks to our Mayor at the time, Mary Lalios, we received the funds needed.

Then began the work to practise and hone the song to the best of our ability, with no further professional help.  It was challenging and at times it all seemed too hard, but the group pushed on and put in a major effort.

The next step was to get Sue Johnson back to manage the recording process.

We chose the local Uniting Church Hall as our recording venue, as it had good acoustics and was free. They were a most generous host.

Recording the song was a wonderful experience, with extraordinary guidance provided by Sue and her wonderful sound technician Haydn Buxton. They made us sound amazing.

We took the opportunity to also record our first original song, Whittlesea Town and one of our favourites, Shosholoza. By the end of May 2012 we had the recording mastered and ready to fly!

Three years later, after many delays and frustrations, the actual CD was finally produced in September 2015.

It is with great pride we offer this song to the world – ‘Out of the Ash‘.  It’s a very emotive song, with a blend of tears and hope. We hope it helps people in coming to terms with that terrible time.

By Kerry Clarke  Whittlesea Township Choir

*To hear the song ‘Out of the Ash’ click here, and select ‘view as a slideshow’