6 April 2022

Crafty Eurobodalla folk set to show their resilience yet again

| Sally Hopman
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Women with knitted wattle

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

Thousands of knitted wattle branches will carpet the Eurobodalla Region Botanic Garden this weekend to mark the second anniversary of the Currowan bushfires.

The wattle represents the spirit of the NSW South Coast folk who fought, survived and rebuilt after the 2019-2020 tragedy. The fire claimed three lives, scorched about half a million hectares, destroyed hundreds of properties and burnt for 74 days.

The golden wattle is native to south-eastern Australia and when their seeds are exposed to heat, they germinate quickly, helping to stabilise soil and return nitrogen to the system. It is one of the first plants to regenerate in the bush after a fire.

This Saturday, 9 April, the Eurobodalla Botanic Garden will turn into a sea of yellow and green with the installation of 10,000 knitted wattle branches. It will be a time for the community to gather together to celebrate its resilience in the face of some of nature’s deadliest days.

Members of the Eurobodalla community have knitted the wattle branches which are designed to transform the landscape into a vibrant art installation.

The team from the University of Wollongong’s (UOW) Batemans Bay campus are behind the Wattle Walk Community Project, with the support of Eurobodalla Shire Council libraries, Eurobodalla Regional Botanic Garden, and with funding from COORDINARE – South Eastern NSW Primary Health Network (PHN) through the Australian Government’s PHN Program.

READ ALSO The story of Currowan a lesson in bushfires for all

The completed knitted branches comprise green stems and yellow pom-poms, all of which have been hand-made by volunteers. The art installation was originally scheduled to be held in September last year but was postponed due to the COVID-19 lockdowns.

UOW Batemans Bay campus manager Jaimey Facchin said the team was overwhelmed by the community response to the Wattle Walk.

“It is amazing to see how many people have contributed to this initiative,” Ms Facchin said. “The bushfires had an immense impact on the community of Batemans Bay and its surrounding areas, an impact that is still being felt every single day. The shared trauma of the community has been immeasurable and, for many, the journey to recovery has only just begun.

“The purpose of the Wattle Walk is to create a shared experience that symbolises our combined loss and celebrate regrowth and healing.

“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.”

More than 10,000 wattle plants have been knitted for the art installation which opens on Saturday. Photo: Sunbird Photography.

Community members have contributed about 10,000 hand-made, knitted wattle bushes since the initiative was launched last June. Each wattle bush has around four yellow pom-poms, meaning there is a wattle flower to represent every single person in the Batemans Bay community, which has a population of more than 37,000 people.

Knitting workshops have been run at the library, which adjoins UOW Batemans Bay.

Ms Facchin said that, just like during the Black Summer bushfires, the Wattle Walk reflected the outstanding community spirit of the Batemans Bay region. When the Currowan bushfires tore through the South Coast, hundreds of people sought shelter at UOW’s Batemans Bay campus.

READ ALSO How dead trees – and your experience – may help save future lives

“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,” Ms Facchin said.

“It is a great way for the community to come together, to reflect on what was lost, but also how we can continue to find strength and heal. It also celebrates the heroes who fought so hard to protect the community during that time.”

The Wattle Walk Community Project launch will be held on Saturday, 9 April, at Eurobodalla Regional Botanic Garden. It will be on display until Sunday, 24 April.

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