By Cam Lucadou-Wells
Dandenong CFA’s main fire truck is emblazoned with professional Aboriginal artwork that paints a life-saving message.
The ‘Smoke alarms save lives’ slogan adorned with proud Aboriginal artist Ian Harrison’s work was unveiled at the station on Monday 22 June.
It’s also seen as a symbol of strong connections building between the brigade and the large Aboriginal community in Dandenong.
“It’s important (also) to get our Aboriginal history out there in the wider community,” Mr Harrison said.
“It’s about coming together and being one.”
Mr Harrison was inspired by last summer’s bushfires in East Gippsland that “ravished” his father’s Country, that of the Gunai Kurnai people.
In describing the design, he says the hands around the campsite represents healing and comfort for those affected by the disaster.
“The burnt trees depict the mark left by the fires and the symbols at the bottom reflect the strong Aboriginal culture throughout our Country.”
On its many visits to Dandenong and District Aboriginal Co-operative Limited events, the truck would hopefully inspire young people to become artists, Mr Harrison said.
The brigade’s Qualified Firefighter Aaron Felmingham, a proud Yorta Yorta man, said the station was trying to connect the safety message with Dandenong’s large Aboriginal community.
The artwork was also the brigade’s show of deep respect. For 12 months, the fireys have been building strong connections, including visits to speak, learn and play sports with Aboriginal youth.
“We started talking to the local mob and we all started learning and got an insight into why the Aboriginal community may not connect with their local fire brigade as strongly as we would like them to,” Mr Felmingham said.
“We had the opportunity to speak with a lot of the kids, play sports with them, learn from them and teach them about what we do and how we keep our community safe.”
Dandenong and District Aboriginal Co-operative chief executive Andrew Gardiner said fire use practices on the landscape by Traditional Owners had been discussed during the “positive and developing and trusting” community engagement.
“Aboriginal youth attending the station and being engaged in the trucks and equipment has been great for their development and personal knowledge of what fireys do and practice.
The fireys have also attended our children’s Christmas Tree celebrations and been quite engaging with children and families.”
Leading Firefighter Stuart Radley added that he hoped the truck’s artwork, on show to thousands of the public, would help “break down barriers”.
“It’s a piece of work that we hope our community will see and be a part of.”
Assistant Chief Fire Officer for District 8, Jamie Hansen, said: “We’re genuine in our want to connect and understand better that Aboriginal culture.
“This serves as a mark in time in this journey we’re on in connecting with local indigenous people and so starting our journey to care for Country.”
Dandenong MP and Aboriginal Affairs Minister Gabrielle Williams said Dandenong was fortunate to have emergency services “always striving to develop deeper ties with our community”.
“Thanks to the initiative of our firefighters, the whole community will benefit from Ian Harrison’s artwork as the fire truck drives past.
“Reconciliation with Aboriginal Victorians is a shared endeavour and one which takes many forms, and I congratulate Dandenong CFA for their efforts.”