In Conversation with Zena Armstrong
Zena Armstrong joins us to share the story of community recovery in the village of Cobargo following the Black Summer bushfires that devastated the town and surrounding regions.
Zena is a former Australian diplomat and director of the Cobargo Folk Festival where she works with a close-knit team of volunteers using music, art and the spoken word to grow community connectedness and imagine new ways of being.
In the wake of the 2019-20 bushfires, Zena and the folk festival team joined forces with other key local organisations to harness the outpouring of support for their community, forming the Cobargo Community Bushfire Recovery Fund, of which she is now President.
The fund has supported more than 40 projects and the story of its formation embodies the collective process and potential for community-led approaches to support recovery and ongoing preparedness in regional communities.
Photograph by Peter Logue
Creative Responders in Conversation with Zena Armstrong
April 2023, Podcast Transcript
Scotia: Hi, I’m Scotia Monkivitch,
Welcome to Creative Responders, a monthly interview series from the Creative Recovery Network where we hear from creative leaders, disaster management experts, artists and community members who are strengthening disaster planning through creativity.
Community-led recovery is something we have explored a lot on this podcast and in this episode we’re hearing about a community that embodies the collective, community process of this approach.
Zena Armstrong is a resident of the Bega Valley in New South Wales. She is the director of the Cobargo Folk Festival where she works with a close-knit team of volunteers using music, art and the spoken word to grow community connectedness and imagine new ways of being.
Following the Black Summer bushfires which devastated Cobargo and the surrounding region, Zena and the folk festival team worked in partnership with other local organisations to mobilise support for community recovery and formed the Cobargo Community Bushfire Recovery Fund, of which she is now President.
I really enjoyed hearing about the impactful grassroots work happening in Cobargo and the opportunity to hear Zena’s thoughts on how we can better prepare for future challenges.
Along with her lifelong commitment to music and the folk festival, Zena is a former senior Australian diplomat to China and senior executive service officer for the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.
Please enjoy my conversation with Zena Armstrong.
Scotia: Welcome to Creative Responders, Zena. I’ve followed and admired the work you’ve been doing in the Cobargo community for some time now. Is it so great to connect with you and have this opportunity to speak with you? Where are you joining us from today?
Zena: I’m just outside Cobargo and thank you for the invitation. I live in a locality called Coolagalite, which is about eight kilometres to the east of Cobargo and it’s Yuin Country. So I pay my respects to Yuin elders past, present and future and thank them for their ongoing stewardship of this wonderful part of the world where I live.
Scotia: It’s such a beautiful part of the world.
Zena: It is.
Scotia: You are the director of the Cobargo Folk Festival and you’ve just come off the back of your 27th edition that wrapped up a few weeks ago. This festival is so well established in the community and I understand that this year was somewhat of a return after the challenges of the past few years with the pandemic and prior to that the Black Summer bushfires. How did it all go? Are you still breathing?
Zena: Well, I’m in the middle of acquitting a number of grants at the moment, so you’ll know what that’s like. It’s very demanding. It was great. It’s actually our 26th. I think we got it wrong when we called it the 27th. Our 25th should have been in 2020, but because of the bushfires, we didn’t go ahead with that festival. And then of course 20 the 2020, I’m getting very confused. 21 was Covid and we came back in 22 with a small festival, fewer stages and not as many activities. But this year we came back in full force, so we brought the kids festival back, the youth stage and our discussion series, Ideas from the Edge and all our stages. It was great. Everybody was ready for a good time and we all had a lot of fun and we didn’t lose money, which is always good.
Scotia: Well, that’s fantastic tick. What do you think it is about the folk festival that’s unique, that enables the community to come together around it?
Zena: I think people really enjoy stepping out of time in a way, and when you cross that the gate into the festival, people talk about that as crossing a liminal threshold and you leave behind the day to day and come into something that’s quite different from what you might be doing usually in your normal life. And so much of what we do as volunteers at the festival, the festival is entirely volunteer run and we come together to create a space for the duration of the weekend. It takes us about two weeks to build that space and in building the space, it’s not just about constructing the tents and putting up the stages, but it’s about building. A vibe. Creating a culture where we do things in a co contributed manner. There’s a lot of focus brought to the event by all of the volunteers who come there because we really see it as an opportunity to do things in a very collaborative and a co-operative way, perhaps more than you might be able to in normal life, in your usual life. And so we create this beautiful space and we decorate it very vibrantly and in a welcoming manner. And we all, I think, bring our best selves to it. And people feel that when they come. And it isn’t really about bringing or being your best self in this safe space that is a little bit out of usual time.
Scotia: It’s like the penultimate of hosting, isn’t it?
Zena: Yeah, it is. We see ourselves as hosting a party, hopefully a party and people can come and have a good time. But it’s also a space where we encourage people to participate. Our festival’s not just about sitting and watching other people playing in a concert. It is all about bringing your own contribution, your own creative self-expression, trying to find somewhere in which you can bring your creative energies in and make the space special. So we have lots of sessions, we have lots of picks, we have dance workshops, we have educational workshops, we have a wonderful kids festival. And I think our aim is to have maybe at least every second person, maybe every person to either be coming with an instrument, carrying an instrument, or with their voices or with their dancing shoes on to make this a really celebratory event where everybody can express themselves creatively, even if you’ve never picked up an instrument before. We’d like to think that some people might go away thinking, Well, maybe I could do that, give that a go. Or if you haven’t sung before, go into the choir or into a workshop and give that a go and go away thinking I’d like to do a bit more of that. So it’s a way of encouraging people to bring music, dance, storytelling, poetry. We have poets as well, bringing all of those elements into daily lives. So you get a taste at the festival and you take it away with you and hopefully come back a year later. Having learned a tune or having learnt a song and being able to offer it.
Scotia: And there’s something about having a space that enables all walks of life to feel they have a place. Isn’t it, from zero to 109 or every kind of cultural framing that you It’s rare to come across something of that nature.
Zena: Where everything is valued, you know, and people can bring whatever their contribution might be to the table and have it acknowledged. So some people feel they’re not musical or they don’t want to dance, and they make their contribution through volunteering in other ways. So our construction team, although there are quite a number of people on our construction team who also play instruments or sing so but there are others who make their contribution through their work, through their carpentry or through their focus on health and safety. And I love that too, that people of a very practical bent can come and work with us and and get satisfaction, I think, out of what they’ve what they’ve offered, what they’ve given, what they’ve provided to make this festival happen. The wonderful thing about volunteer events is that we can experiment and we don’t have the sorts of restrictions that people might encounter in their usual workplaces. So we have a sustainability coordinator, for example, who’s incredibly keen on exploring new ways of managing waste. And we just let go. We just say, Yeah, okay, sounds like a great idea. Let’s see where we can take it. And I think it’s very difficult in other parts of life to have that kind of freedom to explore and make mistakes. So for us, there are no mistakes, there are just learnings and that’s that there’s a freedom in that.
Scotia: An amazing frame to jump in, be free to make mistakes so we learn the lesson of life.
Zena: Certainly is, especially if you’re trying to make music too. You have to make mistakes so that you can develop as a musician or as a singer. They’re there. The grist of it, really.
Scotia: Well, it’s also the biggest constraint, I think, in disaster management, because there’s no capacity to make mistakes, seemingly to make mistakes. So many of your listeners will know that Cobargo was significantly impacted when the fires burnt across south east Australia, reaching Cobargo with December 31, 2019, with catastrophic impacts and in the following weeks and months, Cobargo in many ways became a media focal point and also a symbol of the devastation that was happening over many communities throughout what we now know is Black Summer. So you already had this very strong community infrastructure in the form of the Yuin Folk Club, which is the organisation that produces the folk Festival. And in the months following the fires, you found a way to build on that and join forces with other community organisations to create a really strong foundation for your community’s recovery. Can you talk a little bit about those early days and how the Cobargo Community Bushfire Recovery Fund came into existence and what and how it sort of built on that beautiful rich relationship which you just so beautifully presented to us?
Zena: Cobargo is a really interesting village and I’m sure it’s actually very similar to villages all over rural Australia, very strong volunteer ethic, partly because that’s what’s needed. If volunteers didn’t step up in in villages and towns across particularly rural Australia rather than regional Australia, a lot of stuff wouldn’t get done. So the social capital in villages like ours is really very well developed and it’s not just through the folk club, but the folk club and the folk festival have perhaps helped develop very strong habits of cooperation and trusted relationships right across the community. So we use the Cobargo Showground, that’s the location of the festival and the showground is managed by the showground land manager and has been the site of the Cobargo show for over 100 years as relative newcomers. So 27 years we’ve had to work very hard at working on those local relationships and to I suppose, establish our credibility as an organisation that they can work with. And the Folk Festival has done that. We compared to organisations like the CWA and the rest who’ve been here for very much longer than we have. We as the new kid on the block all those years ago really worked hard to build those relationships and that’s what stood us in very good stead post bushfires. So it was the Folk Club, the CWA, the Show Society, the Scouts and all of those well-established community organisations who came together, the RFS to deliver relief operations in Cobargo. And that started on the very day of the fires really, and perhaps even before when we recognise that our first volunteers weren’t being fed and people came together at the showground to build barbecues and make sure that the firies and the police were being nourished. And then after the events of New Year’s Eve, when everybody gravitated towards the showground, those who lost their homes, those who were wanting to support family and friends and neighbours, everybody just went to the showground. It’s the natural gathering place for people in Cobargo. It’s where the show is held is where the festival is held. Lots of activities go on there during the year and between us all we set up this relief operation that actually continued for six months in Cobargo at the showground and then it carried on after six months. We felt that we needed to start trying to normalise a little bit and so the relief operation moved into rented accommodation and the showground once again became free for community use. Although there are still quite a few people who were living on the showground because they had no other accommodation having lost their houses in the bushfire. The fund started because the Folk Club was receiving emails from other festivals and from people who knew us through the festival who wanted to donate to help Cobargo. They’d seen what had happened to the village, they’d seen what had happened to so many people in our local area and they wanted to make donations very directly to Cobargo and they came to the Folk Club to say, How might we do this? One of the first people to do this was some of the first group to do this was from the Illawarra Folk Festival and their festival was just a couple of weeks after the fires. They wanted to do a fundraiser for us and I wanted to know where the money should go. They didn’t want to provide it to any of the existing charities or foundations because they wanted it to go very directly to Cobargo. So we got together as a folk club to to work out what we might do. We could have taken it into the committee. We have a grant fund ourselves which is used to promote music development and education in our local area, but it didn’t seem entirely appropriate. So we thought that we would set up a fund and set about doing that, never having actually managed any kind of fund like this before, apart from our little grant fund, which we self fund. So in thinking about how we might best distribute that money, we realised that it couldn’t just be used for folk activities and that it needed to be something to benefit the whole community. We weren’t sure how much money it was going to raise. We thought possibly a $100,000, although we’d seen that other funds had raised huge amounts of money. And so we thought that rather than try and duplicate the sorts of support that were being provided for relief by government and the charities like the Red Cross, we would focus very particularly on community recovery. And as a volunteer organisation that draws on community support and we see how important our club has been to the mental health of its members and, and the committee we thought, well, perhaps that’s the best thing that we can do. We can help support other community groups remain afloat through an incredibly difficult time. And so we set up the committee that we wanted to be representative of the entire community, and we went to the show society and asked whether they’d like to be involved. We went to the local co-op to see whether they’d like to put somebody onto the committee and to our local shop because they run a very active grant fund and they’ve got experience. So we thought maybe we can plunder some of that and set up a committee of nine that included business representatives, it included community representatives. We had a base of groups who we saw as the founding groups. So that was the folk club, the Show Society, the Co-op and the Opshop, and committed four positions to those organisations. And then we went out and sought community members and business members. So in the end we got a very representative group that we feel did represent pretty much Cobargo community and we worked from there and we raised over $760,000 from donations.
Scotia: So what a beautiful generosity to hold.
Zena: A lot of that money did come from folk festival supporters and musicians, people who knew Cobargo because they’d been to the festival. A lot of it came through friends and family of people who’d been affected, but we had some very.
Scotia: and that would show of the power of relationship.
Zena: and the kindness of thousands of people. So the compassion that was shown to Cobargo through that time, it even now I think it just moves us tremendously and hundreds of thousands with such kindness
Scotia: With the fund then, how, how was the criteria or process set up?
Zena: We registered ourselves as an incorporated association very quickly and we set up a bank account. Once we’d done that, we got quite a bit of experience in this local area of incorporated associations. Most of those groups that I mentioned are all incorporated associations and of course the Folk Club has been through this process too, and we’ve also got charity status, but we don’t have DGR status. And trying to secure our status was quite challenging for us because you need to have a number of what the ATO calls responsible people and all our responsible people were already in very responsible person type jobs. So we we didn’t really want to bring in anybody from the outside of our local district. So we just decided to wing it with that DGR status and deal with that as it came up. But we had some help from an accountant who provided a lot of pro-bono support for us. And because we were so focussed on helping community we were able to keep that very, very strong focus and not really able to explain why we’ve chosen to do this rather than supporting individuals, which was a question we were often answered. We were helped a lot by some very early community consultations that took place, that were facilitated by local people who’ve got a lot of skill in a particular community consultation process called The Art of Hosting. So this is participative leadership, a participative decision making approach to community consultation. And we brought this into Cobargo not long after the fires, when it became clear that town hall kind of consultations weren’t really going to help Cobargo identify a way through our challenges. We’d had a couple of town hall meetings early, quite early in the piece, and discovered that there wasn’t enough opportunity for local people to express their feelings to where they saw the challenges. And then where we thought there might be solutions so that after those meetings, a group of us came together and we said, well, this isn’t really going to work to be told what we need to do. We want something that’s much more, I suppose, a much more generative process where people come together and explore what might be possible. So it’s a matter of canvassing where we saw the challenges and then exploring what we thought might be possible in terms of providing locally driven solutions. So those hosting consultations were very important in identifying a number of themes that were shared by a large group. It could have been larger, but of Cobargo residents, and they helped us identify the themes for the fund, which we subsequently worked into our objectives. The themes included providing relief and support for individuals, so we continued to support the Bushfire relief centre beyond the six month period. Now that centre was still was going to late last year even though government and authorities tried to, they wind up much earlier.
Scotia: Well they just operate on a on a different timeline, don’t they?
Zena: They do. They do. Yeah. So the need for relief are supposed to provide relief for us It’s still very much there for governments. It wraps up much, much earlier and often the needs are still there needing to be addressed. So we continued our relief centre almost for three years. That centre is now transitioning into a neighbourhood access centre. So that’s an interesting story in itself.
So the other themes were mental health, emotional well-being, environmental health, economic redevelopment. They’re all there sitting in our objectives. Art and creative activity and art and creative activity was very deliberately chosen because we felt that this was going to be an area that would be very hard to get grant funding for, even though we saw it as being essential to restoring morale, confidence and supporting mental health and wellbeing and helping people deal with trauma. And that indeed is what has happened, that we’ve had quite a number of arts and creative projects that have done all of that. They really helped bring us together as a community. So one key element of everything that we were trying to do was to maintain community connectedness through these projects.
Scotia: It’s a baseline of resilience, isn’t it?
Zena: Yeah, and there was every opportunity in Cobargo for the community to actually fragment after this disaster. But, you know, I think hopefully we have been able to remain relatively cohesive as a community helped by this funding.
Scotia: Can you share maybe some examples of the kind of projects that you’re suggesting that that has had this impact.
Zena: There are a number of well, actually, I think most of them who have contributed to connecting us and holding us together. One of the projects that is going from strength to strength and there’s a number of them is the community tool library. So the tool library was the idea of an individual who lost his home and all these tools and he is a very practically focussed person. He wanted to get back and as quickly as possible to start clearing his block, to start preparing it for building, to do what he knows how to do. That very practical work of pulling your life back together after a disaster like this. But he had no tools and. So there were a lot of people in the situation who’d lost their homes, lost their sheds, lost all their equipment. And Scott had this idea of a tool library and came to us with the idea, not himself, having had much experience, if any, establishing a not for profit organisation like this that was volunteer based, but having this wonderful idea where through the sharing of tools, people could actually start rebuilding without having to expend a huge amount of money, particularly on the bigger the bigger bits of kit that you need when you’re trying to clear a block of fire debris. So he came to us and we thought it was a great idea and helped to put a team around him to go out and try and find the funding. We provided some seed funding. Probably around about 30,000, I think, for this to help purchase some tools to start the whole thing rolling. They also got funding from some other organisations. Foundations and March ten were also very helpful to provide them with a container where they could operate from store the tools and they’ve been operating now for three years. They got funding in the BLER I think New South Wales bushfire funding and they are going from strength to strength. They’ve got a fantastic volunteer base. They are now providing training and workshops. I think it’s a remarkable success story and hopefully they will just continue to grow. And who would have thought that simply through the sharing of tools, so much could have been achieved in terms of building this wonderful new community organisation that draws people from all over the community. So from the farm sector, from the village sector, people who are creating community gardens, building sheds, it’s it’s terrific. So that’s one of the projects that we’ve been involved in. Many years ago, the Cobargo artists painted all of the power poles in the main street and some of these poles were destroyed in the fires. But over the years all those paintings have been worn away. So local artists decided that they wanted to restore, not restore them, but repaint the poles. And we have provided funding for that happen. So now we’ve got this wonderful series of painted poles throughout the village, not just in the main street, and this is something that has really helped to restore morale, I think, and to help people feel happy.
Scotia: like a reclaiming of space, isn’t it?
Zena: That’s right. Yeah. And it’s something that local artists have come to do. Residents have been involved. They’ve painted the poles outside their homes. We’re still waiting for movement on the rebuild. So three years on and nothing yet has been rebuilt in the main street. But these activities show that things are moving on. And as you say, reclaiming the space and brightening it. That’s been a wonderful project. Other projects, the community gardens, they’re generating a lot of support and a lot of activity. And perhaps one other thing that this fund has done, it provided a lot of seed funding for groups who have since gone on to leverage that funding into much bigger grants. So the main Street rebuild, for example, we provided funding for them to engage an architect to help do some preliminary design work to build a website, because we need to establish credibility as organisations, especially if grant funders are trying to find out about who you are and what you’re all about. Also, the Resilience Centre, they used our funding to help sharpen or develop their their objectives and their sense of who they were. And the Cobargo and District Energy Transition Group, which was given some early funding and has since gone on to leverage that into $2 million worth of grant funding, which is being used to develop a feasibility study for a microgrid to provide energy resilience in the event of another disaster, and also to create four solar systems, standalone systems on community halls that can be used as cool refuges in the event of extreme heat. So these are climate mitigation measures that’s also associated with a very focussed program on community education, on energy efficiency. There’s quite a lot of work going on in that area in Cobargo at the moment. That’s just a really small sample
Scotia: Extraordinary examples of how a recovery is so much about preparedness and mitigation actually in the long term is it? So we within the recovery space, we talk a lot about community led recovery, community centred recovery and these are such true examples of grassroots community led approaches. What do you think it is about the way your fund came together that has made it so impactful and what do you think it offers as not being provided by more traditional challenges? You say you set it up as an alternative. What What was it able to offer? You think that was different?
Zena: A very speedy and easy grant application process. We think it was easy because we know everybody.
Scotia: It’s such the bugle call, isn’t it?
Zena: And so the acquittal process is relatively straightforward as well, and we can actually see how the projects are being delivered on the ground and are able to support and provide assistance if it’s needed to people who are delivering these projects. We see the needs and we understand.
Scotia: Well you’ve got a relationship to the context
Zena: That’s right. And we can understand where government funding is is not available and not hitting the mark, or that in some ways has also been something that we’ve needed
to be quite careful of as well because we’ve it’s a small place.
Scotia: Always your own personal biases, too, isn’t it?
Zena: That’s right. So we’ve also had to manage conflict of interest in a very transparent way, too but we’re confident that we’ve done the best that we can. We are actually about to submit all of our work to Monash University for independent evaluation so I think there are a lot of learnings. Would we do it differently? Perhaps some things that we would do a little bit differently, including we would have liked to engage much more closely with our donors, but we didn’t collect all the email addresses. And so an awful lot of people who donated direct to our bank account, we have been wondering how to follow through, but we don’t have any contact details. But we’d just like to thank everybody who did contribute. But I think, for example, one of the areas where we saw a real need was in physical therapies, so government funded counselling and counselling sessions for individuals. But quite a number of people here were not comfortable going into those sorts of one on one counselling sessions. And we became aware that there was a real need for people who just wanted physical therapies like massage or those sorts of things that government tends to label as alternative therapies. But they were very useful here. And so we supported a program to provide subsidised physical therapies to help within the framework of.
Scotia: The mental health support is very much a medical model base and therefore does leave a big gap in terms of the broader community engagement strategy. So given this and also what if you are looking at the lessons of the past few years and how we plan into the future for what we understand will be more frequent disasters, is there an opportunity in this moment to rethink how we would approach this community preparedness? There is obviously a lot of evidence of that in the programs that you’ve been supporting. As someone with the direct lived experience of this in your own community, what do you think we should be focusing on in our long term thinking around future planning?
Zena: I think there’s a connection between long term preparedness and sustainability and circularity approaches to living. And one of the things that we found in Cobargo is that those people who are already very much engaged in regenerative processes so, for example, people who might be working in permaculture, people who might be working on food security and community gardens, people who are thinking and who have been thinking about circular principles in their lives are often a very long way down the road towards resilience. And it’s something that I don’t know how much recognition there might be of that amongst those people who are working on resilience and recovery and this whole building back better thing. We don’t talk about building back better in Cobargo, we talk about building back, but we leave off the better because we actually quite like what we had before. So but you know, we’ll build back. It will be different. Will it be better? Well, maybe they’ll be.
Scotia: Time will tell.
Zena: But so much work has and particularly in our in our area and I’m sure it’s the same in places like the Northern Rivers and most places where you’ve got thoughtful communities who’ve been looking at regenerative living practices for many, many years. A lot of that work is already well underway and it has been underway for a very long time. Places where social capital, although we never really called it that before, but where you value working community relationships and where you actually are somebody who values community and and is no matter what your personal political leanings might be or, you know, all those issues that come up when you’re working in small communities that you can set aside all those differences and just focus on what it is that unites us and keep working on strengthening those things that keep us together, keep us cohesive, keep us coherence. So I think it’s possibly a matter of trying to identify what those things are in communities and then working to strengthen those existing, you know.
Scotia: Always so unique to each place eachcommunity is so unique in the way that it is formed and how those relationships are built so that we can’t ever. Frame a kind of singularity about that at all in the way that we approach.
Zena: And we’ve often said here that no one size fits all terms are and certainly even in a very small area like Cobargo, there are differences between how we might choose to do things and how Kohima, which is our next village, might choose to do things. And certainly huge difference between Cobargo and Bermagui, which is a coastal town that’s not only 20 minutes away from Cobargo, but completely different in style and personalities. So their needs are not ours.
Scotia: Do you think that’s why there is such a difference between like community fed organisations, like the ones that you you are in and that that are part of this bigger network operate so differently than the kind of traditional recovery agencies that are there to support. Do you think that’s fundamentally the difference?
Zena: The traditional recovery agencies have played an important role in in Cobargo, particularly in terms of supporting individuals so that the work that they’ve done in relief and individual recovery is
Scotia: a more functional role
Zena: Has been really important. I think where the challenges lie is in how to relate to communities and how to allow communities the space and the respect when when they are engaging with us to allow us to say, well, these are our issues and these are the solutions that we are pursuing to solve those issues. Often what seems to me to be happening is that um the traditional agencies because so inevitably, I guess they do have their objectives and you know, they have a particular series of programs and those programs inevitably are almost a one size fits all approach.
But they are, and they do need to be scalable to degrade it. So they’re not going to be unique within the context of an individual community. And so what happens is that they come into a community like ours with a particular program and they try to shoehorn us into that program. And I think for some communities it may be absolutely appropriate. But for other communities, if if their objectives or their priorities not necessarily align, then it’s very difficult to get a meeting of the minds. That’s not to say that those organisations are not doing a great job, it’s just that there may be better fits sometimes than than otherwise. Does that make sense? I’m tryna be diplomatic here.
Scotia: So the the National Cultural Policy was released recently by what is now called Creative Australia, formerly the Australia Council. Now, a lot of what the policy entails and how it rolls out specifically remains to be seen. But I wonder if you have any initial thoughts on where the opportunities might be within that to build on community resilience for disaster preparedness, particularly for rural and regional communities like yours, and initiatives like the Cobargo Folk Festival and all the huge benefits that they bring.
Zena: It’s going to be very interesting to see whether Creative Australia does bring in a resilience element into its funding policies and whether they see that link that you so clearly see between art, culture and community resilience, connectedness, preparation for a much more uncertain future, or whether they’re still going to continue to support the arts as this kind of, I suppose, relatively discrete body of activity that doesn’t have much connection to other parts of life. I really hope that the cultural policy will encourage funding bodies to see art and culture as a very important part of resilience, emotional well-being, mental health and recovery in and building for the future. To me, it’s all part of a picture and and resilience, rebuilding should be an object to pretty much every aspect of government activity. It should just be inbuilt. One of the things that we’re pondering here in Cobargo is whether the handing of recovery to emergency responders and to the police is going to mean that funding is just going to be delivered into those very practical responses and not that art and culture isn’t practical, but that art and culture might be relegated off to the side as being seen as sort of a secondary value. When we clearly demonstrated in Cobargo that the sorts of linkages and the social capital as well as all the capacity and skills that had been developed as a result of our festival and its links to organisations like the Show Society and the CWA and all those other community organisations is a really essential part of all of that social capital that has supported us through recovery and should be hopefully recognised as such, including by arts funders.
Scotia: I think we have to be more than hopeful. We have to demand it. Let’s let’s be a little bit more forceful.
Zena: I agree. And yeah, art for art’s sake is wonderful. But there are so many other benefits that come with it, particularly in rural and regional areas. And hopefully the people who are funding recovery will see arts funding, cultural funding as a really important part of building community strength.
Scotia: Yes. I deeply agree. I suppose that is the work of the Creative Recovery Network in trying to raise that flag and to see it. It’s interesting that we would hope through the cultural policy and also our government alignment whole of government agenda would start to be able to build some of those bigger thinkings around strategies moving forward.
Zena: We certainly argued in our submission to the cultural policy review that you get an enormous bang for the buck if you’re investing in rural and regional Australia in art and culture. Yes, we get wonderful stories that are being told through a different lens, through that rural and regional lens, but you also get all of these amazing community benefits as well when you support a strong and vibrant cultural sector in these areas.
Scotia: So some maybe something personal we might end on. You’re a musician. I understand Zena is that correct? Can you tell us something about that and how you recharged yourself or your practice in this really long journey that you’ve been having.
Zena: Festivals have been a really important part of my life for a very long time. And I mainly go because a lot of my friends go and it’s where we catch up, it’s where we where we recharge. And I’ve done that throughout a very what was at one time a very busy career, and I still do it now in my retirement, which is not really a retirement, but repurposing my repurposing.
Scotia: I love that. repurposing my life.
Zena: I love the I love making music with with other people. And I’m not by any shakes a terrific musician, but I play whistles. I play flute trying to teach myself the banjo. And I just really like getting together with a bunch of friends to play music together. So I’m, in a way, a typical session player, and I’ll go a long way to take part in a session with friends. So we spend a lot of time driving. I find the whole business of losing myself in music is one of the most reinvigorating things that you can do. And when you get lifted by that feeling in the session where everybody’s playing together really well and making great music, there’s nothing really that can beat it. It’s terrific. It’s very rejuvenating.
Scotia: The poetic form of collaboration.
Zena: Being in the zone with a lot of people.
Scotia: Well, thank you so much, Zena, for being in the zone with us today. And so great to hear such a rich story that you’re bringing and wishing you all the best for the next. And we look forward to working, building more relationship with you and your community.
Zena: Thanks very much, Scotia.
Scotia: Thanks for joining me for Creative Responders in Conversation and special thanks to Zena for sharing the story of Cobargo’s recovery. We’ll link to the fund in our show notes if you’d like to read more about the projects they have supported.
If you’d like to know about more communities utilising the arts in disaster recovery, we have a library of case studies on our website – you can find us at www dot creative recovery dot net dot au.
That’s also where you can find our latest news, resources, research and all of our past podcast episodes and transcripts for each episode.
This podcast is produced by me and my Creative Recovery Network colleague, Jill Robson. Our sound engineer is Tiffany Dimmack and the Creative Responders theme is composed by Mikey Squire.
Thanks for listening.