A Koala Haven in Hometown

A Koala Haven in Hometown

UNTIL 18 months ago, Karla Dickens had never seen a koala in Goonellabah, despite them being her neighbours for five years.

Soon she’ll be driving past one every day – her own in fact – when her public art mural goes up at the new Woolworths in June, featuring a striking contemporary design of a koala and gum leaves in bright, bold colours.

“For the last five years I have often noticed the koala crossing signs.

”I have taken my six-year-old to the Koala Care Centre, heard of koala protection in the area, and recently read in the local paper about the interest in making the local koalas a tourist booster.

”Yet I had not seen any koalas happy in their own habit,” she explained.

“This changed 18 months ago when one afternoon I took my dog and daughter to the park, only a five-minute walk from my front door.

”Finally I saw an elusive koala. This experience automatically gave me a solid and far more real awareness of my furry neighbours. From that point in time I regularly sight them, almost as if they have now invited me into their secret world.”

The huge mural will feature on one wall of the new Woolworths, overlooking the aquatic centre and skatepark.

The $15,000 project has been paid for by Woolworths as part of its DA requirements and the concrete wall surrounding it will be painted to enhance the artwork and lighting will illuminate it at night.

Karla is no stranger to creating big public art, having helped on a mural at Redfern train station featuring the slogan ‘say know to drugs’ while many of her personal artworks take up entire gallery walls. She is now in the midst of finishing her 3.6-metre wide artwork, which will then be digitised, enlarged and printed onto large-scale photographic panels for installation at a size of 18×6 metres.

Karla will then auction the original to raise money for local koala care.

The original work, Dreaming of a Koala Haven, will feature her much-loved technique of incorporating collages of recycled fabrics into her painting.

“I love using fabrics because it just invites a broader range of people that might not be interested in art… using old fabrics tends to resonate with people whether they are aware of it or not. Someone might have a memory from their mother’s tablecloth in the 1970s or their sister’s skirt in the 60s, so it draws them in on a familiar kind of level.”

Painted and collaged gum leaves feature larger-than-life in the mural, with the connection to the koala’s diet as well as a playful association with Woolworths being a food outlet.

An Indigenous artist, Karla said she was thrilled to be chosen from five local applicants and said for her the “koala’s story is not just an Aboriginal story”.”For me the gum leaves symbolise the protection of the koalas’ habitat and simply celebrate the beautiful gum trees Goonellabah is so lucky to have,” Karla said. “On a personal level the gum leaves represent the sacred cleansing or smoking, a practice which I regularly engage in at home and at special events in the community. The essence of this practice is to call in the ancestors to bless the area to be smoked. It promotes a clean and healthy atmosphere and fresh start.”

The mural unveiling will coincide with the supermarket opening.

Karla Dickens

For me the gum leaves symbolise the protection of the koalas’ habitat.

 written by Terra Sword