The reclaimed metal sculpture of a firefighter, affectionately named ‘Joe’, now stands at the entrance of the Jingellic Showgrounds precinct after delays caused by ongoing covid restrictions. Funded in part by the Regional Arts Fund (RAF), Flamin’ Hell, a project commissioned by the Jingellic Hub, is a reminder of the heroism and determination of the volunteer firefighters of the district during the Black Summer Bushfires that devastated the area in the summer of 2019-20.

Flamin’ Hell represents the Country Fire Authority (CFA) and Rural Fire Service (RFS) volunteers who worked tirelessly to protect the cross-border community, with Jingellic Showgrounds being the staging point for emergency services and welfare centre during the disaster. 

Project Manager and concept artist Janice Newnham sought out acclaimed found metal artist Andrew Whitehead for the project who was commissioned for the project in June of 2020. Community consultation was an important part of the design process, giving locals a chance to take part in the sculpture’s eventual creation.

“We had Andrew Whitehead come to a community event (Conversations from the Couch) and present a slide show and discussion about his art, his creative pathways, and his proposal for our Flamin’ Hell sculpture,” said Ms Newnham.

“We also collaborated with local CFA firefighters in discussions of the style, attitude, and pose for Flamin’ Hell. These poses were then recreated by a local CFA volunteer and photographed to be shared and voted on by the public.”

A scholarship was also created with the opportunity for three local artists to attend an Andrew Whitehead workshop in Urana to learn from the master. On 23 June 2021, Taila Briggs, Elise Hill both from Towong Shire, and Jen Vinge, Snowy Valleys Shire, participated and were elated with what they learnt from the experience. One of these artists, Jen Vinge, then went on to create the new artistic gates that marry in format to the sculpture.

The metal used in the Flamin’ Hell sculpture was reflective of materials and relics that were found in the debris after the bushfires destroyed local properties, homes, and farms, creating a true ‘born from the ashes’ feel to the sculpture.

The metal firefighter sculpture is framed by two stone pillars which were created by stonemason Tor Haugen using rock spewed off the slopes of the fire devastated mountains behind the sculpture. metal uprights behind the sculpture and connecting the two stone pillars represent rebuilding after the devastation.

The Flamin’ Hell project itself was extremely beneficial to the community as a creative recovery tool and as a way to reconnect with the parts of the community which had been separated by lockdowns for extended periods of time.

“The entire project has provided a platform to engage our cross-border community and rebuild bonds that were severely fractured by border closures, the isolation of Covid restrictions, and despondency after the double whammy of bushfire impacts and a pandemic,” Ms Newnham observed.

The economic, cultural and social benefits of the project are clearly demonstrable with visitors driving to Jingellic to see the sculpture and stop in at local hospitality and retail businesses at the same time. The sculpture also aligns with the spirit of the sculpture trail being developed for the Great River Road project in the neighbouring Towong Shire.

The RAF Community Grant was used in the commissioning of Andrew Whitehead to build the sculpture itself, playing an integral role in the successful realisation of this incredible and meaningful project. Additional funding and support were provided through the Border Trust, Rural Fire Service via Jingellic Rural Fire Service, Towong Shire and generous donors.

Artists involved in the project: Sculptor – Andrew Whitehead, Stone Mason – Tor Haugen, Gates – Jen Vinge, Sign supports – Lisa Driscoll and Brett Lindsay – Rock deSigns
Volunteers: Design/Project Management/Concrete mixer: Janice Newnham, Rock Pickers: Ashley Greenhill, Andrew Hallinan, Jen Vinge, Robert and Janice Newnham under direction of Tor Haugen, Installation of Metal Beams: Robert and Janice Newnham, Installation of hard stand: Andrew Hallinan and Tor Haugen, Moderator: Trevor Toholka

Image: Joe and Andrew Whitehead, Photographer: Janice Newnham