Photos capture strength after fires, COVID

Stephanie GardinerAAP
Farmer Adam Wheeler feeding his horses near Cudgewa, Victoria, in early 2020.
Camera IconFarmer Adam Wheeler feeding his horses near Cudgewa, Victoria, in early 2020. Credit: AAP

With scorched bushland in the background, farmer Adam Wheeler stands alone on lush green grass feeding his horses.

The photograph by James Wiltshire captures the intersection of events in regional Australia in early 2020, when COVID-19 isolation took hold just as rain relieved the drought after the black summer bushfires.

Wiltshire said Mr Wheeler's rural village of Cudgewa, in northeast Victoria, had been looking forward to coming together for an annual festival after the fires. Then the pandemic struck.

"His place was burnt and they saved the house, but a lot of the crops were destroyed. So it was a double whammy," Wiltshire told AAP.

The photograph is one of many included in the State Library Victoria's State of Change: Rural and Regional Stories from 2020 exhibition, which will begin touring regional libraries from next week.

The collection is a documentary photography project exploring how regional Victorians lived through the early days of the pandemic in the aftermath of the fires.

Wiltshire, who works as a news photographer, said the period was the first time many people felt like they were living through history.

"I remember being on the Hume freeway and being alone for kilometres and kilometres, maybe seeing the occasional truck.

"There's not many moments in life like that."

Photographer Fabiana Guerreiro's work focused on how people in industries like commercial fishing, nursing and aged care coped.

One of Guerreiro's images shows nurse Alison Sedgwick tenderly offering a drink to resident Jean Woolley at Lorne Community Hospital aged care facility.

"It shows the love and care of the staff towards the residents who probably hadn't seen their families for a long time," Guerreiro said.

"It was such an isolating time and it was beautiful to watch that moment and see that dedication."

The exhibition will be displayed in areas including Geelong, Bright, and Colac on a regional tour that will run into 2023.

Curator Jade Hadfield said the photographs show the resilience and solidarity of regional communities.

"I hope they can reflect on that time and look at their achievements and the unification they have."

The tour also aims to remind country people that arts, culture and stories belong to them.

"It's about connection, access and seeing themselves," Ms Hadfield said.

"Places like the State Library are in the capitals, but these places really are for everybody."

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