The Chook Project

136_3700

Photograph courtesy of Barbara Joyce.

Today is the Third Anniversary of the Black Saturday Fires. I want to mark the event with a story that has in turn, made me cry and laugh and then marvel at the indomitable human spirit.

The story is set in one of the areas hardest hit by the Black Saturday fires, Strathewen, and involves members of the Strathewen community, knitting needles, a bzillion balls of alpaca yarn, and lots and lots of chooks. The locals know it affectionately as The Chook Project. The story begins with the founder of the project and a resident of Strathewen, Barbara Joyce.

Chook_Project_1

Barbara lost 27 friends and neighbours on Black Saturday. She fled her home only minutes before the firestorm hit. Her studio and her husband’s workshop burnt to the ground. Mercifully their home survived. When she returned to it, she found that radiant heat had cracked the windows and the vicious winds had blown the doors in. Every surface of the inside of her home was covered in a thick layer of soot.

Everything in the house had to be painstakingly cleaned. In that process, Barbara unearthed Cocoa (below), a knitted and felted chook that she had made eight years previously with yarn spun from her neighbour's chocolate coloured alpaca. Those same neighbours, along with their alpacas had perished in the fires. Barbara set about bringing Cocoa back to life with a wash and new stuffing and took her in a bag to her dear friend’s funeral. Those present were so pleased to see Cocoa that she was passed around for a cuddle, soothing everyone in her own special way during that sad event.

Chook_Project_2

In the next few months, holding that experience close to her heart, Barbara saw a good use for the knitted chook pattern. In the first couple of years, she secured sponsorship for alpaca yarn and wool stuffing and began knitting chooks for the local children. Later, as the project gained momentum, the Strathewen Community Renewal Association funded the materials. Friends got on board and helped with the knitting. A knitting group (of more than twenty women) was established which became a place for sharing grief, laughter and hope for the future. In Barbara’s own words,

“The chooks were an ice-breaker and a way for people to start connecting again. Our conversations would drift from grief to side splitting hilarity. Storytelling would be interrupted by people counting out loud and checking off rows in the pattern.” Quoted from Barbara’s story published in Barefoot Magazine.

In order to personalise the chooks, before the knitting began, each child was given a drawing of the outline of the chook shape and asked to decorate it with whatever colours and patterns they liked.

Chook_Project_4

Not surprisingly some chooks were decorated with flames. Every effort was made to represent the child’s original design accurately. Wool was specially dyed if colours weren’t available commercially, or 'embroidery' was added if the child’s pattern required it.

Chook_Project_8

NB. The  original kntted chook pattern was designed by Bev Galeskas for Fiber Trends© 

Today, every primary school aged child in Strathewen has their very own version of Cocoa.

Barbara’s favourite moment was delivering the children’s finished chook and seeing their faces light up as they cuddled their chook close. The chooks took up pride of place in each child’s bed, spreading their special love and warmth while the children slept.

Like The Tree Project, the healing this project has offered throughout the community is outstanding. Whether it was in the designing, the knitting or in the cuddling and warmth of the finished product, it’s provided nourishment for hearts and souls far and wide.

Again, in the beautiful words of Barbara herself,

“This project brought children comfort, nurtured close friendships between the women, fostered connections within the community, assisted the recovery process and reminded us that we could laugh again. I see the hen as an ancient symbol of regeneration and rebirth and when our world turned black, the humble chook found its way into our hearts.” Quoted from Barbara’s story, published in Barefoot Magazine.

_Barbara_Joyce_crop-B

Last year, Barbara undertook training in Art Therapy at the Phoenix Institute. She’s obviously a natural. This project is a great example of Art Therapy in action!

Isiiad remembers the people who lost their lives, those who lost their homes and those who still grieve the loss of loved ones today, the Third Anniversary of Black Saturday.

 

This evening, ABC 1 is screening a documentary titled “Then The Wind Changed”, about the rebuilding of Strathewen after the fires. In it you will see and hear the heart warming stories of families involved in this project and the very special way it has touched the lives of many.

ABC_Doco_

(This documentary is now available on ABC iview.)

 


Parent Category: Arts
Facebook Image

Birrarung Alchemy

Birrarung Alchemy There’s a howling wind today. Just now a big branch came loose from its trunk mooring and thundered onto the roof, threatening the structure of the house and by… More…

Baldessin Studio

Baldessin Press (Studio) Here's another little taster from the Baldessin Studio at St Andrews just north of Melbourne. These photos came across my email today. They were taken… More…

Stop Press

STOP PRESS! Arts Talks 2011 This information has been distributed by the Arts, Local Government and Climate Change Forum Tuesday 3 May, 10am -12.00 noon followed by morning… More…

After the Storm

After the Storm Days are filled with quiet pleasures here, no bells and whistles. But then bells and whistles are here and gone in an instant, bouncing off the surface of things.… More…

Ev Hales-Static Motion

Ev Hales-Static Motion I sometimes worry that there's something wrong with me. I get so excited by the artwork that I've seen that I can't stop thinking about it...Perhaps I need… More…

Steampunk

Steampunk You could be excused for thinking these pics were taken on the set of a movie about the life and times of Jules Verne. In fact they were taken at an event called… More…

Out'n'about

Out'n'about Today I've been out and about around my hood. This morning I drove through Warrandyte's early morning fog to get to the Baldessin Studio (Baldessin Press) at St… More…

Birrarung House, Day Two

Birrarung House, Day Two Every cloud has a silver lining. Two days of trying to hook up to the www to post my blogs have led to me making a temporary 'office' in the courtyard at… More…

Stephanie Mew (2)

Stephanie Mew (2) I've come across a great publication, "Creative Spaces. 21 Years of Nillumbik Artists Open Studios." If you can get your hands on a copy before you see the… More…

Ekphrasis Awards-2

Ekphrasis Awards Simon Icarus BAIGENT Caviar Spoon 1995 gold, ebony, mother of pearl, diamond, ruby 0.5cm x 5.5cm x 2.0cm ©Simon Icarus Baigent (Photo by Silvi Glattauer)… More…

Light Factory Gallery-Eltham

I've heard about the Light Factory Gallery from so many people and in so many places. I can't believe it's taken me so long to get there. Today was the day. The building is great.… More…

The Tree Project

The Tree Project It's a rare day that I'm not reminded of the 2009 Black Saturday fires in some way. Whether it's blackened tree trunks that still punctuate the landscape, or… More…

Poetry for Matcham

Poetry for Matcham Last night's Red Chair Event honoured Matcham Skipper. His nephew Sigmund Jorgensen spoke of his uncles life and times. Jenni Mitchell put together a… More…

Ev Hales-A Work in Progress

Ev Hales-A Work in Progress Yesterday saw the launch of Ev Hales eagerly anticipated, self published book "A Work in Progress". As the name suggests, it illuminates the process… More…

Launch of The First Train to Allwood

Launch of The First Train to Allwood at The Wattle Festival What better place to launch the local yarn bombing spectacular - The First Train to Allwood - than at the 2012… More…

Nillumbik Artists Open Studios-Jane Annois

Nillumbik Artists Open Studios - Jane Annois This weekend sees the Nillumbik artists open their studios to the public once again. Last week I had way too much fun meeting one of… More…

Nillumbik Open Studios in November

Nillumbik Artist's Open Studios in November Detail of work by Stephanie Mew. Time to get your diary out and mark two weekends in November for some serious 'studio hopping'.… More…

Mary-Lou Pittard

Mary-Lou Pittard Photograph taken with the permission of the Light Factory Gallery Eltham and Mary-Lou Pittard©. With the Nillumbik Artist's Open Studios fast approaching in… More…

The Chook Project

The Chook Project Photograph courtesy of Barbara Joyce. Today is the Third Anniversary of the Black Saturday Fires. I want to mark the event with a story that has in turn, made me… More…

Emmy Mavroidis

Emmy Mavroidis and Aldo Bilotta Emmy Mavroidis' work was shortlisted for this years Nillumbik Prize. It's a big brave drawing of a 'moving' figure. She loves the figure and has… More…

Copyright

THIS ENTIRE SITE © 2010-2012 ISIIAD. ALL OF THE PHOTOGRAPHS AND WRITTEN MATERIAL HEREIN, UNLESS OTHERWISE NOTED, ARE COPYRIGHTED BY ISIIAD. NO PART OF THIS SITE, OR ANY OF THE CONTENT CONTAINED HEREIN, MAY BE USED OR REPRODUCED IN ANY MANNER WHATSOEVER WITHOUT EXPRESS PERMISSION OF THE COPYRIGHT HOLDER.