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Putting Wamoon Back on the Map

The plight of small communities and in particular their schools has been front of mind for artist and writer, Louise Cooper since moving to the Western Riverina of NSW.

In October 2014, Louise now resident in Leeton, applied for and was successful in gaining funding through the Country Arts Support Program. Western Riverina Arts supported the project that would literally put the community of Wamoon, eight kilometres from Leeton, back on the map.

For Wamoon and its school with its 30 students, 2015 was marked as a big year with the town celebrating its centenary in October.  The CASP grant covered the cost of a series of creative community development workshops and activities including painting a mural wall, making heritage costumes, an exhibition and recording memoir for publication in the Wamoon Centenary Book. All of the activities were underpinned by the inspiration for Louise to Put Wamoon Back on the Map.

The intergenerational aspect of a project was also something that attracted Louise to work on the Western Riverina Arts Creative Ageing Project, For Prosperity’s Sake. Funded through the Office of the Ageing Regional Creative Ageing Fund, the project was one of three run by Regional Arts Boards with projects by Eastern Riverina Arts – Bold-Selfies by Oldies and Maisie’s Choir and Kitchen Band by Southern Tablelands Arts (STARTS) with community, council and organisational partners. Each project received $15,000 funding to develop projects that encouraged to make the most of their later years through physical and creative activities.

Louise offered a Centenary Arts and Crafts program and worked alongside the students to paint a heritage mural commemorating the school’s centenary. But she also pondered the closure of small schools: the local Murrami Public School had just been closed to amalgamate with Whitton Public School and the parliamentary inquiry into the closure of small schools was also taking place.

During the planning of the Wamoon Residency, Louise had identified a random mail art project as a way to explore Wamoon’s relationship with the map.

‘I felt that that mail art gave a means to connect with people outside of our immediate geographic vicinity, and this was a way to have people outside of Wamoon and outside of Leeton Shire recognise Wamoon’s existence… to put Wamoon on the Map!’ she said.

Louise further developed this into an idea for a collaborative arts and literature publication The Bilby Bulletin: Small Schools, Big Adventures that would connect small schools throughout New South Wales (and eventually Australia). Wamoon Public School acted as The Bilby Bulletin’s host school, for Louise’s successful application for a CSU Community-University Partnerships Arts and Cultural Grant that funded the publication’s first tour. Recently Louise also attracted sponsorship from iconic Australian hat maker, Akubra. She has also had support from some of Australia’s best loved authors including John Marsden, Paul Jennings, Mem Fox and Wendy Healy-Hindmarch who have donated books for school libraries.

Louise said she put in many voluntary weeks contacting small schools with under sixty students across New South Wales asking them to come on board with The Bilby Bulletin project. Twenty six schools have responded to date from Mulwala and Lowesdale in the South to Yetman on the Queensland border and Fern Bay on the East Coast.

‘Our small and endangered little bush schools are an iconic part of Australian bush culture and I believe that it’s important to preserve this bush battling, pioneering culture – it’s the Australian way!’ Louise said.

‘Considering Australia’s vast, often brutal landscape coupled with our low population – an environment so vastly distinct to other countries; we have developed unique cultures and microcultures out here in the bush, our blink-and-you’ll-miss-it villages are too often overlooked in favour of the hustle-and-bustle excitement of the city.

‘It’s time for some new Australiana, to recognise our own culture, to keep it strong and current so instead of fearing multiculturalism, children are excited to share what it means to be Australian,’ she said.

Bringing this all together, Louise Cooper and photographer, Ron Arel, set off on the first Bilby Bulletin Small Schools Big Adventure on Wednesday  25 November.

The pair visited Wamoon, Rankins Springs, Wyalong and Collingullie Public Schools, and also put a call out for students to create their own postcards for their area with a blurb on the back about their place in Australia.

‘We have received some brilliant collections of postcards from Ladysmith Public School and Lowesdale Public School,’ Louise said.

Travelling Arts and Cultural Exchange Library

As the story collection grows, a Travelling Arts and Cultural Exchange Library will be established to visit small schools and country shows. The library will be an artist guided space offering visitors the opportunity to enjoy the collection and contribute their own stories about their place in Australia.

Louise said it will also offer an exciting plethora of arts, crafts and community development activities that she hopes will inspire small communities to think about establishing their own creative community spaces. The library will also offer access to an online group of professional artists as ongoing mentors.

To continue the project in 2016 Louise is putting together a collaborative zine in order to raise funds and is inviting everyone from all over the world to get creative and write a letter to the near future – Dear 2016. Letters can be emailed to loulou_cooper@live.com.au

More information about the project can be found on the project Facebook page. 

Put Wamoon Back on the Map was funded through the Country Arts Support Program

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