“Hello Koalas” says the NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell

Member for Port Macquarie, Leslie Williams and Margret Meagher, Executive Director, Arts and Health Australia have welcomed the funding commitment from NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell for State Government sponsorship of one of the koala sculptures in the new Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail that will be unveiled across the Port Macquarie Hastings region in September 2014.

Barry O'Farrell, Margret Meagher, Leslie Williams Parliament House Hello Koalas Presentation 26 Feb 2014 low resThe sponsored koala sculpture will feature an artist’s innovative design to raise awareness of the NSW Government’s pilot scheme to establish the Port Macquarie Hastings region as the first dementia friendly community in New South Wales.

For local member Leslie Williams, tackling dementia in the Port Macquarie Hastings community is one of her highest priorities. Leslie is co-convenor of the NSW Parliamentary Friends of Dementia as well as chairing a local committee aimed at making Port Macquarie the first dementia friendly community in Australia.

“We must ensure the best possible quality of life for people living with dementia, support their families and carers, and enable people with dementia to age well in their own homes amongst loved ones and friends,” she said.

“I thank Premier O’Farrell for getting behind this project and sponsoring a koala sculpture design which promotes dementia awareness.”

The Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail is a public art community project which will see 50 large scale one-metre high fibreglass koala sculptures dot the region’s landscape from the Pacific Ocean and Hastings River, which intersect beside Port Macquarie’s CBD, to the hinterland of Wauchope and Comboyne and the national parks and waters of the Camden Haven.

Port Macquarie Hastings Council is the principal sponsor of the Hello Koalas Sculpture project, which is designed to promote cultural tourism, environmental sustainability and community engagement and participation.

Fifty Community Champions are being invited to sponsor the koala sculptures and bring the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail to life.

The Hello Koalas Sculpture Project has been conceived by Arts and Health Australia, a national organization, based in Port Macquarie. Executive Director, Margret Meagher said:

“Arts and Health Australia is dedicated to advocating the use of the arts and creativity to enhance health and wellbeing. Public art is one of the most effective ways to engage members of a community, from childhood to older age and from diverse backgrounds, and effectively encourage interaction, participation and contribution.

“Everyone loves the koala. The Hello Koalas Sculpture Project is a perfect match of artistic practice, cultural tourism, scientific research and an Australian icon that’s a true local identity.

“We are fortunate to have the largest koala population on the east coast of Australia, together with the world’s only Koala Hospital and the Billabong Zoo, with its accredited international koala breeding program.

“When the Arts and Health Australia team were developing ideas for a new signature cultural event for the Port Macquarie Hastings region, that would also deliver enhanced health and wellbeing outcomes for our local community, the idea of an animal sculpture project seemed the logical choice.

“Animal sculpture projects have been popular since the 1990s when Chicago staged the first Cow Parade, which subsequently visited Sydney in 2000,” said Margret Meagher. “And now in NSW, we are currently enjoying the Rhino’s colourful sculpture trail in support of Taronga Zoo and Dubbo Zoo, sponsored by Destination NSW.

“Hello Koalas, however, is a world first in that it is specifically designed as a longterm project of 15 months or more, with multiple layers of community programs. For example, we have designed an Art, Poetry and Dementia program, which fosters collaborations between school children and people with dementia, to create designs, inspired by Australian poetry, for life size koala sculptures.

“When I became aware that our local member Leslie Williams was committed to making our region more accessible for people with dementia, the idea of creating a design to promote dementia awareness for one of our koalas took shape. A phone call to Melbourne artist Kerry Smith-Taughkin, who connects people with Alzheimer’s and school children through art, commenced the creative process and now we have Kerry’s beautiful design for one of our 50 koala sculptures, sponsored by the NSW Premier and Leslie Williams. Hopefully, it will help demystify the perceptions that people have around dementia.“

According to Alzheimer’s Australia NSW, Port Macquarie Hastings ranks second out of 93 electorates in NSW with the highest prevalence of dementia. An expected increase of 350% in the number of people living with dementia is predicted.

Alzheimer’s Australia NSW CEO The Hon. John Watkins said: “We’re really pleased that dementia has become such a focus for this project. We’d like to thank the Premier for his support of people living with dementia and the Hello Koalas project for recognising such an important issue”.

“Responding to the challenges of these increases,” says Leslie Williams, “requires a sustainable whole-of-community approach, raising awareness about dementia and ensuring planning processes so that the region is physically and socially prepared and proactive. I am proud that, as a community, we are creating a model for developing dementia friendly communities in NSW and the Hello Koalas Sculpture Project is helping us to achieve this”.

Hello Koalas Project Manager, Linda Hall is equally excited about the project. “With a 23 year career in tourism and events, I am excited by what the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail can deliver to the region and indeed the NSW Visitor Economy in terms of attracting international and national visitors as well as encouraging locals to explore their own backyard.

“And we are certainly proud that the design for our koala sculptures represents a true blue “Port Macquarie koala”, thanks to the specialist input from Cheyne Flanagan from the Koala Hospital, who was quick to point out to us the differences in the physical appearance of koalas from Victoria, Queensland and NSW. What’s more, the Hello Koalas sculptures are not just ‘Made in Australia’ – they are ‘Made in NSW’.

Hello Koalas Sculpture Project – hellokoalas.com

For Media Information, contact Elizabeth Grieg,

Email: egreig@bigpond.net.au or telephone 0418 194 554