Koala arts to the rescue

Pamela Irving with her creation for the Haileybury College fundraiser.

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

A monumental art project featuring 23 giant koalas has raised more than $18,000 to help protect Australia’s increasingly threatened koala populations.

About 100 students and staff across Haileybury College’s campuses – including Berwick and Keysborough – as well as seven famous artists got behind the cause.

Each uniquely decorated their own six-kilogram koala fibreglass sculpture.

And after two Covid-interrupted years, the works were put up for an online fundraiser auction.

The aim of the Haileybury Koala Project is to raise funds for the Australian Koala Foundation to conserve koalas and their habitat after the devastating Black Summer bushfires in 2019-’20.

Renowned public artist Pamela Irving, Academy Award winner and former Haileybury student Adam Elliot, and artists Joan Blond, Di Crawford, Ian Wood and George Manioudakis donated their talents.

Ms Irving said it was a “joyous event” to see all of the varied koalas together.

“It was quite beautiful. And it was fantastic to see all of the kids’ works.”

Ms Irving, who has closely observed koalas in the wild, “blissed out” in the trees at her brother’s farm in Colac, didn’t hesitate to help the cause.

“They’re just so happy, very lovely animals.

“Then the images of those poor animals as a result of the fires with their paws burnt – I found it so sad. The pain must have been unimaginable.”

She covered her sculpture in a deep lapis lazuli blue and her renowned animal and character forms – such as Larry La Trobe the bronzed dog that features in front of Melbourne Town Hall.

“I wanted to make something bright and happy, after the fires – which were such a sad thing that happened to our beautiful koalas.”

During Covid lockdowns, she worked on her koala in her Bentleigh studio – which was fortunately within five kilometres of home.

Sitting in her studio window, the koala became a beacon for the cause.

People spontaneously started to drop off mittens and blankets for koalas, which were duly passed onto wildlife charities.

Haileybury art teacher and Koala Project coordinator Bambi Johnson said the project launched just at the start of the Covid pandemic.

And got bigger and “more formidable” over the ensuing two years.

“The koalas exemplified the hope and resilience of the local community (during Covid).

“The heart of the project was how we’ve been able to stay on board with it.

“We had to be creative in how to support it and make it work.”

One of the koalas will stay at Haileybury College as a lasting reminder of the effort.