University of Wollongong: Wattle Walk to highlight resilience, strength of Batemans Bay community

More than two years after the Currowan bushfire inflicted immense damage on the Eurobodalla, the community will come together to celebrate the region’s resilience.

The Wattle Walk Community Project will turn Eurobodalla Region Botanic Garden into a sea of yellow and green, with approximately 10,000 wattle branches knitted by community members 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 PHN through the Australian Government’s PHN Program.

The wattle plant is one of the first to regenerate after the bush has been scorched by fire.

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.

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

Jaimey Facchin, Campus Manager of UOW Batemans Bay, said the team were thrilled and overwhelmed at 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.”

Community members have contributed approximately 10,000 handmade, 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 Bushfire of 2019/2020 tore through the South Coast, hundreds of people sought shelter at UOW’s Batemans Bay campus.

“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 1,” 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.”

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