Morwell's hopes for the future on show at Foto Biennale

Image credit: Clive Hutchison

A photographic exhibition which evolved from research into the Latrobe Valley community’s recovery from the Hazelwood mine fire is on show in this year’s Ballarat International Foto Biennale.

In the aftermath of the fire which burned for 45 days in early 2014, residents rallied for an investigation into the health impacts from the fire, leading to a 10-year State Government-funded study.

The research – the Hazelwood Health Study – is also looking at the impact on community wellbeing.

From this, the photographic project came to life following consultation with local groups about ways of strengthening community wellbeing and recovery after the mine fire and the closure of the Hazelwood Power Station which followed in 2017.

Individuals and community groups were asked to consider an object that would shape the future they saw for Morwell. The photos, by Clive Hutchison, were shot in colour but the hands and backgrounds were presented in black and white to make the objects ‘pop’ out at viewers.

The exhibition was developed by the Community Wellbeing Research Stream of the Hazelwood Health Study in collaboration with Morwell Neighbourhood House and Gippsland Centre for Art and Design.

Humanities and Social Sciences Senior Lecturer at Federation University Sue Yell, who is also on the Hazelwood Health Study Exhibition project Team, said the community were given an opportunity to talk about how they saw the future of the region in a positive light after the fire.

“There was a lot of concern in the community that the Hazelwood mine fire just gave an impression of this place shrouded in coal – yet another bad thing happening in the Latrobe Valley,” Dr Yell said.

“There was an idea of doing this exhibition and taking these photographs to express what the community would like to see in the future. It also captures the strengths of a community and all the many different organisations here to give a positive image.” Dr Sue Yell

The exhibition’s 2017 launch at Federation University’s Switchback Gallery at Churchill included a comments book – and the feedback to organisers was that the photos were helping the community think about a positive and productive future.

Dr Yell said the project was also a good opportunity for the community to remind itself that the Latrobe Valley was a diverse region with strong tourism and agricultural industries, and had a vibrant arts culture.

After the launch, the exhibition made its way to Melbourne and was showcased in halls of the Victorian Parliament in May 2018.

The Ballarat International Foto Biennale runs until 20 October 2019.

Visit the Hazelwood Health Study for more information.

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