A New South Wales-Victorian border community left devastated by last summer’s bushfires has come together to fund a statue in dedication to the “heroism” of local volunteer firefighters.

Key points:

  • Volunteer firefighters will be honoured with a sculpture in the bushfire-affected communities of the Upper Murray region
  • The communities of Jingellic and Walwa have fundraised for the statue with help from the Towong Shire Council
  • The sculptor of a well-known statue of the former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer has been commissioned for the project

The towns of Jingellic and Walwa were threatened by a fire that killed a young volunteer firefighter and burned for two months.

Local woman Janice Newnham, who has spearheaded the fundraising efforts for the statue, says remembering the sacrifice of volunteers was an obvious choice for a centrepiece in the community showground.

“We wanted to have something iconic on our showground. We really wanted to create a sculpture of some sort,” she said.

“Then the Black Summer fires came along and cooked our area.

Through community donations and a grant from Towong Shire Council, Ms Newnham commissioned local artist Andrew Whitehead who recently completed the statue of the former Deputy Prime Minister Tim Fischer.

Local metal sculptor Andrew Whitehead has made a name for himself with works such as his portrayal of the late Tim Fischer.(Supplied: Andrew Whitehead)

‘Uplifting and celebratory’

The final design is yet to be decided by Ms Newnham but she says she wants it to represent the pain of the fires but still be “uplifting and celebratory”.

“Whether it be a firefighter heroically fighting the blaze or whether it’s a firefighter just doing their job … something that really encapsulates the spirit of volunteer firefighters.”

Ms Newnham said the community is going to build a wall from rocks out of Mount Burrowa and Pine Mountain which burned for weeks during the bushfire season.

New gates will also be built at the showgrounds.

“They’re going to be panelled with all sorts of relics and iconic pieces of metal, tools and whatever else trawled from the ashes and debris of people’s property,” Ms Newnham said.

“It’ll be a real solid connection to the bushfire event but also it will be uplifting and celebratory as well.”

‘Overwhelmed’ with response

The Mayor of Towong Shire David Wortmann said it was a bit of good news during a difficult year.

“There is no doubting that people are still doing it very tough and COVID has made it extremely more difficult,” he said.

“The recovery process is not going as quickly as we would have hoped.

Residents have already turned their attention to the next fire season.

“Some communities want pumps and other machinery to help tidy up around public spaces,” Mr Wortmann said.

“And as a council we are starting to look toward the upcoming fire season and the sort of programs that we are going to implement.”.

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