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Beeac Primary School’s brolga art brings community together

Partnered with a professional artist, Beeac Primary School students educated their town about a local native Australian bird through art.

Located in the Colac Otways Shire in Western Victoria, Beeac is surrounded by lakes and wetlands birds.

Beeac Primary School students and their teacher Karen Cherry first met artist Peter Day at the World Environment Day in nearby Colac.'This seemed like a great opportunity and Creative Victoria became the focus for our funding proposal,' Ms Cherry says.

His wildlife sculptures were popular with the students, who were studying local birds at the time. He suggested doing an art project about the brolga, a native Australian bird that lives around Beeac. 

Through the Creative Learning Partnership Program, Peter Day was placed with Beeac Primary School to create artistic work representing the school community's passion for art and the environment.

Making brolgas

Peter Day is a professional environmental artist and educator. Living in Aireys Inlet on the Great Ocean Road, Peter's work draws awareness to local wildlife, ecology and environmental conservation using natural and recycled materials. 

At Beeac Primary School, Peter showed students how to create brolga sculptures by making a brolga-shaped frame and weaving natural materials like leaves and wood around it.

Grade 6 student Mason said, 'I loved working with Peter, he was really cool.’

They also created a brolga silhouette, again using natural materials but forming the shape of a brolga in the negative space. The students walked the brolga sculptures down Beeac's main street and drew chalk brolgas on the footpath.

Beeac main street art galleries Windowspace and Red Rock, displayed the students' sculptures. The sculptures later moved to paddocks by the roadways for everyone to see. 

Grade 6 student Tahlia said, 'I liked putting our artwork out on the farm and seeing it when we drove past.' 

Using the brolga project as the model, Peter has now secured further funding from Creative Victoria to do similar projects with three other schools. Students from these schools will study their own threatened species and share their learnings with each other. Beeac will be the lead school in these community building environmental projects.

Science, art and community

Ms Cherry said that everyone in Beeac was talking about the project, even the local newspaper. 

'It was very exciting for them to experience the dynamic impact that public art had when shared with the community in numerous formats, she said.

Ms Cherry also explained that very few people in the community knew about brolgas and it was fabulous to share these understandings through art.

'This was an empowering project for students as they became artists and ambassadors of the brolga,' she said.

Students' families also contributed to the project with Grade 2 student Monique's grandmother visiting the school to speak about brolgas nesting on her property.

'I was proud of her and she was proud of us for making sculptures to tell people about the brolgas,' said Monique.

Beeac Primary School students learned that the south western brolga is a threatened species and organised a 'brolga census' to collect data on local brolga sightings to mark them on a map. Beeac postman Dave volunteered to help the students collect data from residents.

After receiving a Victorian Junior and Biodiversity Landcare grant, the school developed a citizen science project within the local community. 

The project is now in its fifth year of collecting brolga sightings with the community and sharing the information with leading brolga scientist Dr Inka Veltheim. This primary data is highly regarded in the scientific community.

To display the sculptures and research on local brolgas, a community open day was held at Beeac Hall.

The school has also built a knowledge garden with Peter Day and Indigenous educator Richard Collopy to plant indigenous plants, and display a sculpture showing the brolga and students learning about the animals in each of the six Indigenous seasons. Information about these plants has been shared via postcards to the school community.

Last year, a whole school Indigenous overnight camp was also held and involved cooking bush tucker and learning about the local food, culture, and history from Koori Elders.

Students at Beeac Primary School have now presented the project at three different schools and at the Melbourne Zoo in front of 200 students. 

Principal of Beeac Primary School, Andrew Rogers said the project has been an outstanding opportunity for students from the small rural school to learn how to present to large audiences. 

‘We have been delighted with how this has assisted in growing their self-esteem and resilience’, he said. 

Find out more 

This year, Education Week celebrates the theme ‘Building Connections’. 

It is an opportunity for all primary and secondary schools, higher education, and early childhood services to showcase how they are building connections with the community around them. Education Week will run from 23-29 May.