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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. 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.

'This seemed like a great opportunity and Creative Victoria became the focus for our funding proposal,' Ms Cherry says.

Through their residency programs, such as the new Creative Learning Partnership program, Creative Victoria supports professional artists to work with school communities – in-person or virtually – to produce creative work. It provides students, teachers and creative professionals with new and challenging learning experiences.

The Creative Learning Partnership Program placed Peter Day with Beeac Primary School to create artistic work representing the school community's passion for art and the environment - the Brolga Pathways Project.

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.

'I loved working with Peter,' says Mason, Grade 6. '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.

'I liked putting our art work out on the farm and seeing them when we drove past,' says Tahlia, Grade 6.

Science, art and community

Ms Cherry says 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,' Ms Cherry says.

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

Beeac Primary School students learned that the south western brolga is a threatened species. They 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. Students' families contributed too - Grade 2 student Monique's grandmother visited the school to speak about brolgas nesting on her property.

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

With support from the Corangamite Catchment Management Authority, Beeac Primary School and Peter Day held a brolga open community day at Beeac Hall to display their sculptures and research on local brolgas.

They were joined by special guests: Whuurrong Gunditjmara and Gunnai communities' cultural leader Jamie Thomas and Phoebe Thomas, who performed and taught an Aboriginal brolga dance; ecologist Inka Veltheim, who is researching brolgas for her PhD; and Kristen Lee from sustainable waterways organisation Waterwatch, who led an activity on wetlands insects and habitat.

Ms Cherry says the students became educators.

 'Very few people in our community knew about [brolgas],' Ms Cherry says. 'It was fabulous to share these understandings through art.'