The line of the highway to reach Childers has played a subtle yet integral part in the creation of the Childers Palace Backpacker Memorial, according to its artist.
The story of the work has been told by the memorial’s creator Sam Di Mauro as part of a recently released film which is now being shown at Childers Arts Space.
On 23 June 2000, tragedy struck when the Palace building was gutted by fire as a result of arson.
Fifteen backpackers, twelve visiting from overseas, were killed.
Miraculously, another seventy escaped unharmed or with minor injuries.
The start of the memorial
In 2001, artist Sam Di Mauro began working on a memorial to commemorate the victims of the fire.
His design featured a glass wall and family photographs of those who tragically lost their lives.
Once a backpacker himself, Di Mauro said he wanted to create the same sense of connection and family within the memorial that he knew many travellers felt on their journeys.
“I was a solo traveller but always felt a connection to a family….a community of people that were with me at any given time at one of those youth hostels…,” he said.
Di Mauro said the materials used to create the memorial were embedded with meaning.
“The one panel of glass symbolises the family of backpackers and the transparency and vitality of youth,” he said.
“The smaller crystalline ‘Journey Boxes’ reference the connections to ‘family’ and ‘place’ of each of those who had lost their lives on the day of the fire.”
Highway line connection
Di Mauro said upon researching the Childers area further, he found some mapping of the highway that ran through the region.
“At the time of researching, I found a town plan that had been drawn by some of the students at the University of Queensland,” he said.
“They had drawn a line of the highway going through the district.”
Di Mauro said he included the “line of the highway” within the glass panel not only as a positive but subtle connection to the district but also as a means of locating the Journey Boxes.
“This is the road that each of the fire victims would have travelled along to get to their Childers destination,” he said.
The journey boxes, Di Mauro said, in turn also work to illustrate the patchwork of fields on either side of the highway where many of the backpackers would have been employed.
“The line is more subliminal. On an initial view of the memorial it is not detectable, but when you engage more closely with the memorial and you look from a certain angle, you can see that it meanders its way between the boxes and across the glass panel” he said.
“All these backpackers would have come in or left by that line of the highway.
“It was quite important to them… it is what connected them all.”
On the night of the memorial viewing by each of the parents, Di Mauro said there was a mixture of emotion that could be physically felt.
“By the end of the viewing, they (parents) were going on a journey through their collection of family photos. and standing beside the Journey Box of their child and getting a new family photo taken,” he said.
“It was amazing, it was heart wrenching.”
Di Mauro said the project made him realise the importance of becoming part of the story in the creation of this art.
“As artists, we often think away from a situation but there is a reality that is going on at another level that we should also be thinking about,” he said.
“I did the artwork in 2001. Now…it still affects me. This journey and this disaster…”
The 7.7 metre long x 2.8 metre high glass memorial wall is situated upstairs in the Childers Arts (CHARTS) building, formally the Childers Palace Backpacker Hostel.