Warringa Park School

In November i was once again invited  back to  Warringa park special school. This is my 3rd project with them. I was  very excited to see the development in their skills …. In using the tape and the cane and understanding both what we are making and how to make it….

This time it was a tram ….

The first day 4 classes helped me to build the frame, and the following week another 2 helped my cover it in the paper and then add the drawings. The fabulous art teachers Andrea and Ruth, had worked with their classes to create a number of different styles of drawings and collages to glues on the tram for decoration….

They looked great and I’m sure they were the highlight of the end of year arts show.

Recovery takes time – a reflection on working with communities affected by disaster.

It’s a conversation with a preschool teacher twelve days into our residency in Minima Sanruki that reminds me of the deeper reasons we are here. ‘The town may be rebuilding, but in our minds and hearts we still suffer.’ Her face bears the weight of her loss: four years ago her husband didn’t come home. His body is still missing.

The preschool is on a hill. It was the appearance of a truck and trees at the front of the tidal wave that sent her and the fifteen children still at the nursery scampering higher into the hills where they sat with no water, or food, or phone… waiting. It was three days before the teachers knew how many students had survived.

This is just one of the many stories held in peoples memories, embedded in this landscape, forever a part of this town’s history.

What was once a thriving town is now an empty space in front of the ocean. Most of those who have stayed are still living in temporary housing. The actual numbers shift and change in stories: the preschool teacher said today that half of the children are in temporary housing; someone else told us that 90,000 people in the Tohoku Region are still without a home. The manager of the temporary housing tells us it will be another two years before homes will be rebuilt… that will make it six years of living in a small portable box.

May 2015 is my third visit to Minami Sanruki since the earthquake and tsunami of March 2011. The first time, six months after the disaster, we saw the piles of people’s lives heaped up in eight-meter-high stacks: cars, houses, and belongings, people walking through the remains, searching for personal items that may be important to someone.

“The tsunami took everything that was man-made, and left what nature had made.”

Eighteen months later the piles had mostly gone, leaving behind deserted barren flat land. Some people had only just left the school halls they had been camping in, for the temporary housing that they still call home. And now: walls against the ocean are being built, the land raised by seven meters – the height of one of the evacuation centres over which the tide rose and flooded, taking most of the people who had fled to safety on its roof top with it…

So what was once a town is now a work site: an army of trucks carrying soil from the hill

to build up the flat; rollers, cranes, diggers, front-end loaders; men directing traffic, everybody rebuilding, dust, noise, heavy traffic.

Slowly, new restaurants and services are creeping out from the temporary shopping village into the edges of what was once the town; but most are waiting for the new landscape to be built.


The first time I came to Minami Sanriku with Polyglot it was for three days. We brought puppets and a workshop. The second time, in 2103, we invited the students from three primary schools to imagine and build from cardboard their dream houses. With these works we created an installation, building a version of ‘We Built This City’, one of Polyglot’s interactive play spaces, for the community to come in and play in.

This time we came with materials and asked for a story. We collaborated with Acchi Cocchi, a Japanese company from Yokohama that has been presenting café concerts – great coffee and classical music – to the temporary village communities since 2011. On behalf of Polyglot theatre, Bernard Caleo – a comic artist from Melbourne – Dan Goronzy, and myself teamed up. We had heard that the shift into temporary housing had separated elders from their families, as the units were too small for everyone to live together. Our project aimed to create a drawbridge between the elders in the temporary villages and the young in the schools; and to draw a bridge between Australia and Japan, Melbourne and Minima Sanruki.

The underlying philosophy of Polyglot’s work is that kids are the boss: we let them tell us what happens next. To this end, Bernard introduced us to the Kamishibai** form of story telling, which became our underlying form for this project. Kamishibai, or ‘paper theatre’, is a form of storytelling which developed in Japan in the 1930s. A wooden box is the stage, the actors are a series of illustrated cards, The storyteller narrates the action as he or she removes each card, revealing the next scene.

To start with we held two café concerts in the temporary villages: a morning tea of coffee and local treats, a classical music concert and then an invitation to the residents to share with us a story or a song. Bernard drew the stories as they sung them to us. Once they understood what we were doing, directions flew as to what should be in the picture: no not like that – bigger, smaller, more round. ‘What does an Oni look like, we ask?? ‘Like him!’ a cheeky man points to our production manager. We had two fabulous mornings of much laughter and fuIMG_0481n, song and smiles…


IMG_0774The story that both groups of residents gave us was the story of Momotaro (peach boy). We took this to Irya Elementary School and showed the students the drawings Bernard had made. Then we asked… ‘‘tsugi wa’?? What happens next??’

In a very quick 90 minutes we presented a classical music concert, the story from the elders, and a workshop developing the students’ ideas into images. The first day with the Grade 3 and 4 students the story was developed and drawings were made. In the afternoon we developed their drawings into contemporary Kamishibai boards, with moving parts and pop-out puppets.

Day two was with the Prep and Grade 1 students. We showed them the work from the day before and then had them trace around their bodies onto large pieces of tyvec. Then they coloured themselves in to become the villagers in the story. On day three, the Grade 5 and 6 students created the end of the story and designed large puppets and set pieces.


IMG_0589The education system in Japan (from what we understand) is very ridged, and with a great importance given to all children learning the same thing at the same time. The local minister for education department acknowledged to us in a meeting that the arts were powerful in the healing process, but he finds it hard to fit extra curriculum activities into the tightly managed schedule.

Our challenge was to get any time at all with the children, as they had fallen behind in their schoolwork because of the disaster and there was pressure for them to catch up. We were offered a brief amount of time with the school that had been least affected. Because of these time constraints we hadn’t been able to make a time where we could show the children the outcome of their work. But …a small comment I made was overheard by a teacher, which led to a quick performance being presented after school as the children were waiting to catch their bus (nothing like a deadline to get work finished). About 20 of the children also attended a BBQ held the next day, with the Australian embassy and town councillors, where we also presented our new work. The residents from the temporary village had been invited to the BBQ, but transport is difficult… however one resident came especially to see what ending the children had made so she could go back and tell the others.


The next week was spent taking the story – begun by the elders and completed by the elementary students – to the kindergartens. Polyglot ran a drawing workshop, Acchi Cocchi presented a short music concert, and then we all performed the new story. The children were so focused and immersed in everything we offered them: again, it was a joyful and rewarding experience. The predominate feedback we received from both the primary school and the kindergartens was about how wonderful it was to see the children smiling…

“Minami Sanriku has not fully recovered from the tragic disaster. Some of the children in our nursery school are still forced to live with their family in the temporary housings. Despite the harsh conditions, children are living their lives to the fullest, and the staffs are encouraged by those spirited children.” [taken from a thank you letter from the staff of Natari Nursary School]



Art is a powerful tool.

Its simplest outcome: the creation of smiles and joy through participation in art in the school for a few days, and then feeling, watching that ripple outwards into the teachers, parents and community.

The asking of ‘what happens next’ and inviting the students to draw and build their answers, reminds participants that they have agency: that there is a possibility not only to imagine or reimagine a future, but also to be able to act on those imaginings. On a more complex level, art has the potential to help replace traumatic memory with new experiences and, with focused attention, help to transform and release trapped subconscious memories.

And then there is the importance of a community knowing that they are not forgotten: that there are people from other places in the world who remember and care enough to come and visit.

“I am deeply moved by your tender heart and I would like to extend my sincere appreciation as a Japanese for caring so much about the tsunami devastated regions in Japan” Mikako Atsuchi and the Acchi Cocchi staff

 These stories are important, the people of Minami Sanruki are grateful that we return, that we remember them, that they are not forgotten. Since this disaster there have been others; Nepal, Vanuatu and there will be more… and as they fall out of the media cycle it is important to remember that people’s lives have been stopped, their dreams, homes and often families shattered…

Recovery takes time…

June 2015

INTO THE LIGHT – Cycles of Change

Here is the video of the event we created with the community of Whittlesea Township in September.

INTO THE LIGHT is a community process and event developed using art to explore ongoing recovery issues in the region, break down isolation and build connections. It began in 2011 in response to community needs following the 2009 Black Saturday Bush fires. Locals asked that the project be repeated, to continue a collective reflection, realising that community recovery is an ongoing and evolving process that takes time to unfold.
So for the past 4 years we have been engaging in a collective collaborative art project in the Whittlesea Township and surrounding areas, as part of a community recovery process.
Each September, members of bushfire affected communities from across the Kinglake Ranges parade together as a personal, public and collective ritual to welcome spring, reflect on the effect of enforced change in our lives, and look to their future, together.
Guided by a community committee of local people and artists, the theme changes each year to reflect communities’ unfolding issues rather than council boundaries or projected plans.
Working across municipal borders the process has involved workshops delivered in twelve schools throughout the Whittlesea, Nillumbik, Mitchel and Murrindindi shires and community workshops engaging individuals and groups of all ages and abilities.

Walk on the Wild Side

Waringa Park School
The completed animals……..
They did a great job

Warringa Park School Residency

Warringa Park is a dual mode school which caters for all children with an intellectual disability and has a current enrolment of 431 students. (Taken from their website)
I am there every Wednesday this term working with 4 classes from the middle years to create 3d sculptures/lanterns of endangered species for their end of year performance “Walk on the Wild Side”

The event is during the day so they won’t be internally lit….

It has been a crazy journey….maybe a little ambitious but now they are made and papered and ready to be decorated ….

time to reflect

It’s ‘Community Arts Day’
and I’m sitting in my studio reflecting on the last 3 months,

As I dither about, flicking through other web sites I find that on this day
Neil Cameron has published a book “The Cultural Development Handbook. An A to Z guide to designing successful arts events in the community “

Neil was the man who introduced me to the world of fire, lanterns and large outdoor community events. I worked with him for 7 years at the Woodford Folk Festival and in a few other places.

That time was wild, adventurous massive, exhausting, exhilarating  and the foundation of so much of what I have done since.

In fact, I returned to Woodford this year to create the opening ceremony (with Jyllie Jackson and Kate McDonald). The ceremony  was built from tools and philosophies I have learnt from Neil (and others who i meet through Neil and worked with on other projects) I felt that the opportunity I was given this year was a result of the work and time that has been layered into the festival by Neil and all the fabulous artists that worked with him, and those that followed….. over the last 25 years often with limited resources. I thank Neil and everyone else who has been a part of that journey for their time, wisdom, blood, sweat and tears!!


Also here is the video i have finally finished for last years INTO THE LIGHT event.

INTO THE LIGHT: Between and Sky

This was the 3rd INTO THE LIGHT, a community arts event working with the bush fire affected community in Whittlesea and surrounding areas.

A lantern parade was again the spine to the event. Workshops were run in 12 schools in the area plus a number of community workshops. We created a finale with Ian Hunter, the indigenous elder for the area, based on Bungil the eagle and how he became a star.

The core local  artist group that we worked with to create the event built a beautiful bird puppet, that became Bungilina, a cross between a Phoenix, rising from the ashes, and Bungil the creator spirit.

We stared with an afternoon of games and activities, including a showing of the Blacksmith tree (this is a very special project that grew out of the fires… blacksmiths from all around the world sent leaves to the fire affected communities after the 2009 fires… and now it is a tree

Black Saturday – The Tree Project Facebook Page

the treeproject

Our own lantern tree, revamped from the year before was dressed in leaves holding the hopes, dreams wishes of the community. We ran out of leaves. There was a strong desire/need to connect with this process. Some of the leaves were heartbreaking, and  showed us that there is still a need in the community for this work,that  the burn’s are still hurting, many below the surface, and many people still trying to rebond with themselves, their families, their partners and searching for peaceful place to exist.

This series of projects have been very powerful for me, seeing and feeling the great importance of community art. It does have a place, it is a gentle and inclusive, non threatening process that is more than a nice activity, but actually essential in unlocking trapped memories/pain and creating new pathways, and so  so so important.

a new home

last Thursday

tsunami 2 was presented to

the new principal of the school in Minami Sanruki that i visited 2 years ago.

This school no longer has a school.
The buildings have gone…
although the GPS in the hire car says it is still there

as it does with many locations

ghosts hovering in a virtual landscape

Instead this school shares the buildings with another school.
next year the school itself will be merged with other schools.

What makes a school? Its buildings or its teachers and students?


i presented tsunami 2 to the new principal…

explaining that it had been made by rope that i had found on my last visit, and the meaning behind the use of the gold-colored/copper wire etc…
(see earlier posts for more detail)

he said

he understood my thinking

(how reassuring as i was wondering if it was a crazy weird thing to be doing…)

and he hoped his school would be reborn

and thank you for thinking of us for the past 2 years……

no photos
just words
mind pictures
special moments
strange to wonder how and where and if this little nest hangs


June has been an exciting month.

Into the lIght – The Unfolding Story won a national Local Government award for active arts.

This was very exciting, a great acknowledgement for us and the community and for everyone that participated and helped to create this magical event…..

needless to say it will happen again this year.

Unfortunately i couldn’t join Mahony and Lee in Canberra to collect the award as i was once again wrangling 2300 people for the Lismore Lantern Parade. Which was amazing.

The shift to Oaks Oval was massive, and while there were a few teething problems, the show was magnificent. The weather was divine on the day and we all worked really hard to make it happen! (that goes without saying really!)

here are some beautiful photos of the show c/o natsky

and the parade

and  more photos from the local papers!

I’m now back in Melbourne, attempting to restore the emptied energy glass and prepare for the next Into the Light which we are beginning to plan in Whittlesea Township……..

and so it continues……

On a personal exploration i am also learning pottery, and have a collection of reasonably ugly olive pip bowls…..
and some not so ugly pieces

i look forward to the first cup I can drink  a coffee from

and the first bowl I actually eat breakfast out of.

INTO THE LIGHT-The Unfolding Story

was held on the 1st of September at the Whittlesea Showgrounds
in Whittlesea,  Victoria.

In follow up to last years event…. INTO THE LIGHT-The Unfolding Story was made up of a   lantern parade with 12 primary schools from the Whittlesea, Kinglake, Flowerdale and Nillimbick Communities,
a spiral,
video projections that filled the side of the cattleshed,
a 30 meter shadow play

and so much more……..

Here is the video of the night……..