Karyn Thompson's home was only just spared from the NYE 2019-2020 bushfire that hit the Cobargo district, after she and husband Sam Patmore stayed to defend their home in Verona.
Staying to defend their "dream home" was not an easy decision and not one taken lightly, but when her husband said he was staying, there was no other choice for Ms Thompson but to stay behind with him.
"I wasn't going to leave Sam here even through I didn't really want to stay, but at the same time we really love this house, so I wanted to also try and protect that."
Although the house was spared due to a wind change and their efforts to extinguish as many spot fires as possible, many homes of friends and community members burnt down all around her.
"My heart hurts when I think of all the possible situations and struggles that others have faced," she said.
The fires had come within just two metres of her family's cottage and so the experience left her pondering the meaning of the home and the possessions carried with us in our homes.
- Nathan Barnden reflects on powerful, emotional bushfire documentary 'A Fire Inside'
- Bega Valley Shire Council's capital projects: rebuilding Kiah Hall
- 71yo Tathra bushfire victim 'empowered' by designing, building her resilient new home
- Cobargo repaints main street telegraph poles, a vibrant step towards the town's recovery
"Sometimes I think, why didn't I just go? Why does it matter if it got burnt?"
Ms Thompson said she was left with the blaring question of why a house was so important that people would risk their lives to save it.
She also wondered how it must be for those people that do lose everything, and the impact on their identity as individuals.
"A home is a container of all these precious things that you've lost and really those items are parts of yourself. I wondered how much the home is an extension of our self."
Being an artist, Ms Thompson found refuge in her ability to express her emotions through her artwork.
She created a sculptural series around the idea of the home for a pilot project that ended in May 2021 called Output - Art After Fire, run by South East Arts and FieldScreen International.
The project aimed to support communities in bushfire ravaged southeast NSW and those from western USA.
It paired artists with mentors to create a collective body of work to help the artists recover and collect their thoughts after the fires.
Ms Thompson's sculptural pieces in the series revolved around the idea of "fight or flight" and sought to ask questions about our psychological response to traumatic events.
"I think my usual response is flight, so I remember in the fires, there was just one point where I wanted to go into the corner and just pretend it's not happening. I didn't really want to fight it but my husband was out there," she said.
"Since the fires, I have struggled with memories and dreams of not only fighting the fire but also fighting my overwhelming instinct to flee."
In response to those thoughts she also began obsessing over of ways to be better prepared next time.
She said she was left concocting elaborate imaginings of ways to escape with their house intact, if it happened again.
Ms Thompson began almost parodying these thoughts in her art by toying with the idea of being able to shrink your house down and take it with you, or having a home on wheels, a home with its own legs, or a home with wings.
"These are almost going into the ridiculous about how to be safe next time, well maybe if I could put legs on the house so it could jump over gullies and fences and run away.
"It's almost making fun of myself, because I was being a bit ridiculous about thinking, well maybe we should put concrete all around the house for example, I was just trying to deal with not letting it happen again.
"It's a bit about letting go of not knowing, because you can't change anything that's going to happen really," she said.
How the experience of a bushfires changes an artist's focus
Ms Thompson said the bushfires had a huge impact on her art practice.
Her earlier works largely focused on the scribbly gum tree and the shapes and textures of the scribbles on the bark made by scribbly gum moth larvae.
For the past couple of years she described feeling, "stuck trying to paint red skies and burnt trees, which I seemed unable to complete".
A lot of her work centred around trying to heal, but she said her process has not been linear but rather "moving forward and backwards".
"As much as I want to put it behind me completely, I also acknowledge the fact that it will always be one of the most terrifying and overwhelming experiences of my life.
"Although I am finally starting to shift my focus, it is bound to leave a lasting impression on my art practice. Because I believe every moment lived is an experience to be reflected on- an opportunity to grow."
Part of the process of healing her connection to home and the land is by converting her backyard shed into an art studio.
"I am definitely feeling more positive and hopeful for the future.
"I have started to fix up the shed out the back to allow more space to make art. Finally a real studio, where I can make as much mess as I like," she said.
She was also hoping to revisit the Scribbly Gums that have inspired much of her prior work.