Art exploring the impact of the Black Summer bushfires, as told by Western Sydney University’s youngest community

Western Sydney University Early Learning (Penrith) Art Exhibition

Click on the image to view gallery

The children of the Western Sydney University Early Learning Centre Penrith (WSUEL Penrith) have showcased their unique artworks about the Black Summer bushfires in a new exhibition.

During the 2019/2020 bushfires, the children and educators at WSUEL Penrith used creative arts to explore their emotions and document what they were seeing around them.

Educators spent time collaborating with the children, who were aged just a few months to five years, to explore the causes of the fires and the impact this had on communities, animals and their habitats. They then turned their focus towards regeneration and ways to help.

WSUEL Penrith Centre Director, Theresa McGavock said she is delighted to see the exhibition come to fruition after almost two years of work. She said the children used many different mediums in their artworks to help tell and share their personal stories.

“This exhibition charts the development and growth of not only the children themselves but also the educators who have worked closely with the children to help build hope and resilience during uncertain times,” said Ms McGavock.

“The children got to explore challenging concepts through paint, drawing – including using charcoal gathered from locally burnt trees – dramatic play, stories, songs, music and movement. They also planted native seedlings to provide future habitats and food for native animals.”

At the height of the bushfires the children played indoors due to poor air quality and smoke haze. So educators brought the outdoors in, creating tree installations and animal habitats within the playrooms. This meant children could develop an even deeper understanding of the impact of the fires and learn how to move past the feelings of anxiety and uncertainty.

Ms McGavock said the children were able to develop their advocacy skills, including adopting an injured koala through the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital and following its progress back to health.

“Families from all six WSUEL centres also contributed to a collection of donated goods for fire-affected communities, such as groceries, toys, clothing, household items, which were delivered in a convoy of volunteer vehicles to the South Coast town of Mogo,” said Ms McGavock.

“By using strategies of action with the children, we were able to teach them practical ways they can make a positive difference for others.”

As a result, the children have strengthened their resilience and were less impacted by the other recent events, such as floods and the COVID pandemic.

“The children have taken all these additional events in their stride and are looking forward and talking about the future in positive and meaningful ways,” Ms McGavock said.

The exhibition was made possible through Wentworth Healthcare Community Resilience funding, and seed grant funding from the University’s Centre for Education Research.


18 May 2022

Kathryn Bannon, Media Officer