11 June 2021

Art installation knits together a lasting bushfire memorial

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Mary Castrisios and Nicola Bath with knitted wattle branches

Mary Castrisios (left) and Nicola Bath (right) with some of the knitted wattle branches that recognise the Black Summer bushfires. Photo: Sunbird Photography.

Few things knit a community together more closely than a natural disaster.

Shared loss, pain and trauma followed by rebuilding, regeneration and growth brings people out of their everyday lives and into a realisation of the importance of good neighbours, family and friends.

Eighteen months after the devastating Black Summer bushfires, the team from the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Batemans Bay campus are creating a knitting project to recognise the immense and ongoing impact that natural disaster had on residents of the NSW South Coast.

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The wattle plant is one of the first to regenerate after the bush has been scorched by fire so it seemed the ideal choice to commemorate the devastating 2019-2020 bushfire season.

Inspired by the Australian War Memorial’s poppy display, UOW Batemans Bay’s Wattle Walk Community Project will see members of the community come together to create thousands of handmade knitted wattle branches to form an art installation that will commemorate a summer that changed the face of the Eurobodalla Shire.

The completed branches, comprising green stems and yellow pom-poms, will form a landscape of knitted wattle that will be displayed in the grounds of the Eurobodalla Regional Botanic Garden. In addition, the art installation will be included as part of the River of Art, an annual festival that celebrates the vibrant arts scene of the NSW Far South Coast.

Knitted wattle branches

Knitters are being invited to take part in the ambitious Wattle Walk Community Project. Photo: Sunbird Photography.

UOW Batemans Bay manager Jaimey Facchin said the Wattle Walk Community Project is a great initiative that recognises the trauma inflicted on the community during the Black Summer bushfires, and celebrates the unsung heroes who played such a significant role in protecting the community during those terrifying weeks.

One of those was UOW staff member Nicky Bath. When the bushfires of 2019-2020 tore through the South Coast, hundreds of people sought shelter at UOW’s Batemans Bay campus. During several days, Ms Bath helped to house, feed and support families, elderly couples, UOW students and staff, and countless pets.

“The purpose is to create a shared experience that symbolises our combined loss, but also celebrates regrowth and healing,” she said.

“Wattles play a vital role in restoring ecosystems after fire, but the yellow colour is also symbolic of the yellow NSW Rural Fire Service uniform that is given to every brigade member when they pass their basic training.

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“The golden wattle is native to southeastern Australia, and when their seeds are exposed to heat, they germinate quickly, helping to stabilise soil and return nitrogen to the system.”

The summer of 2019-2020 was a horrific time for the entire community, and has left a permanent scar 18 months later.

The UOW team has an ambitious goal to create an art installation of 37,000 wattle branches, one for every member of the Batemans Bay community.

“We were inspired by the Australian War Memorial’s 2018 display of 62,000 poppies, a tribute to the Australian lives lost in World War I,” said Ms Facchin.

Knitting workshops are being run at the library, which adjoins the UOW Batemans Bay campus. The community is also encouraged to get involved by picking up wattle kits from the library and dropping off completed branches when they are ready.

Wattle kit comprising green and yellow wool

Knitters can pick up a pattern and wattle kit at Narooma, Moruya or Batemans Bay libraries. Photo: Sunbird Photography.

The Wattle Walk Community Project will be launched during the River of Art festival when it runs from 17-26 September, 2021.

Keen knitters can pick up a pattern and wattle kit at Narooma, Moruya or Batemans Bay libraries. Completed wattles, stems, leaves and pom-poms can be dropped off at the same locations.

There is also an instructional video available with a step-by-step guide to creating a wattle branch.

The project is being supported by Eurobodalla Shire Council Libraries, Eurobodalla Regional Botanic Garden and the River of Art festival, with funding from COORDINARE – South Eastern NSW Primary Health Network, through the Federal Government’s PHN Program.

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