Stories of Home
8th May, 2021
12-20 members of the local youth communities (aged 14-18) with migrant or Indigenous backgrounds, 200 participants of School students, teachers, and parents, 50 childrens
Between March 6 and May 23, 2021, the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery exhibited the Overwintering Project: Westernport. The exhibition focussed on Melbourne’s Western Port Bay as internationally significant migratory shorebird habitat. The exhibition featured 20 curated artists, 13 of whom have produced new work in a variety of media inspired by the local Western Port environment. Their work appeared in conjunction with the Overwintering Project Print Portfolio, a growing collection of 300+ original prints made by artists from Australia and New Zealand in response to the unique nature of their local migratory shorebird habitat.
Only an hour from Melbourne, Western Port is a unique and internationally significant wetland with incredibly rich biodiversity. Western Port’s uniqueness is recognized through its cultural identity as the land of the Bunurong / BoonWurrung people, the traditional custodians of these lands and waters, and its designation as a Ramsar site (or internationally significant wetland), a UN Biosphere and a BirdLife Australia Key Biodiversity Area. It is also party to three international migratory bird agreements, with Japan, the Republic of Korea and China.
In conjunction with the Overwintering Project exhibition, the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery hosted a number of events focussing on the important nature of the Western Port region and in particular its migratory shorebirds. With this aim in mind, on May 8, 2021, the Gallery held a wonderful World Migratory Bird Day celebration. The event provided a great opportunity to bring some new audiences into the Gallery space both to experience the exhibition and to learn about World Migratory Bird Day and the migratory shorebirds that return to Western Port for the non-breeding season (October-May) year after year.
Scheduled for the day were a series of diverse activities targeted at engaging audiences of all ages. Families with young children came early to join the art activities, which were suitable for children aged from 3 to 14. Children could cut out and decorate a small plastic shorebird puppet, or print a linocut of an Eastern Curlew, a Grey Plover, a Ruddy Turnstone, a Bar-tailed Godwit or other local species. The ‘Decorate a Shorebird’ activity was designed and run by Jill Anderson, the Gallery’s Education Officer. The printmaking activity was designed and run by artists Helen Timbury and Overwintering Project Co-ordinator, Kate Gorringe-Smith.
Also present in the gallery with tables full of brochures, stickers and posters were Laura Rhodes, BirdLife Australia’s Migratory Shorebirds Program Co-ordinator and Susan Clark, a volunteer from BirdLife Mornington. They were a great part of the celebration, ready to answer any shorebird-related questions and with lots of informative material to give away!
While the art-making continued inside, Gretel Taylor, Outdoor Activation Officer for the Mornington Peninsula Shire council, ran a beautiful outdoor activity for families, lead a ‘walking as a flock’ exercise in which participants of all ages took turns to ‘take flight’. About half a dozen families took part, each in its own group, with family members swapping the role as ‘leader’ and changing the style of the group’s ‘flight’. Together we created a cluster or flock of bodies, listening as a group to heighten awareness of direction, speed and flow.
Inside again, we then had storytelling in the gallery foyer for young children, featuring the story of ‘Rosie Wonders: the Wonderful Tale of One Small Godwit’s Migration.’ Kate Gorringe-Smith read this story to eager families with smaller children. The story was a hand-made book created by children at a school in Point Cook, a western suburb of Melbourne.
Before the audience dispersed we introduced the presentation of ‘Stories of Home’ a series of three short performances by different artists. Reflecting their own backgrounds as immigrants to Australia Arman Tejani and Robin Oyales performed pieces inspired by their personal experiences of migration. Dr Rea Dennis, who organised this part of the day, is a lecturer in the Performing Arts at Melbourne’s Deakin University and also one of the exhibiting artists in the Overwintering Project: Westernport exhibition. Her story reflected her experience as a second-generation Australia, her father migrating here from Greece.
The three stories combined to add a human element to the tales of migration that we had been sharing through the day. They were a poignant reminder that both humans and birds are subject to the challenges of migration, and that many species travel to find a safe haven to raise their young.
The final event for the day was a colourful presentation by Greg Hunt, recently-retired Executive Officer of the Western Port Biosphere Foundation. In addition to being a Ramsar site and a Key Biodiversity Area, in 2002 the United Nations proclaimed the Western Port region a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, a ‘living laboratory’ where models for balancing conservation and development can be tested. Greg spoke mainly about how our migratory shorebirds rely on habitat in Western Port, and also about the many other amazing creatures supported by this wonderful area.
Check the event photos [here].
Watch the event video of the Day:
Organisers observed that many families who came to our World Migratory Bird Day event stayed for all the events. Helen Timbury who ran the printmaking activity for the full two hours estimated that she assisted in the making prints with about 50 children during the course of the day.
With such a diversity of free events available, families took the opportunity to stay and try their hand at many of them. It is always a challenge to keep people engaged, but by offering activities that involved making, listening, running and observing, that allowed for noisy fun as well as quiet contemplation, I believe we kept an audience of all age groups engaged through the two-hour celebration. And with the multi-faceted way that information was offered I also feel that there was a gradual accumulation of information during the day. Participants on the day also had the opportunity to wander through the Overwintering project: Westernport exhibition (also free of charge), which provided quiet and contemplative reinforcement of the information provided by the WMBD activities.
The specific outcome of the ‘Stories of Home’ event is manifold. The event engaged two young actors of diverse backgrounds aged in their early 20s, as well as the event organiser, Rea Dennis. The immediate consequence of involving Arman and Robin was to engage them with the tale of migratory shorebirds. I have found that engaging artists leads to them telling friends and colleagues about the birds, which helps to spread awareness.
The secondary consequence of having them perform in the gallery space was to engage an audience aged from late teen to young adult – an audience often hard to target through other activities. Unfortunately we had difficulties finding the performers, hoping at first with no success to involve local youth in the performances. The delay in organising the event meant that we were unable to publicise it broadly to our target audience. However, the actors brought along friends from their cohort, and the performances provided, I believe, a thought-provoking counterpoint to the rest of the days’ activities, and there was still a healthy audience for them. I look forward to pursuing this initiative with a little more lead-time for the Hobson’s Bay World Migratory Bird Day celebration in October 2021.
As this was the first World Migratory Bird Day event to be held at the Mornington Peninsula Regional Gallery, I feel that the day was a great success. We also managed to get some press coverage but sadly the story was not published until after the event!
|Activity||Target age group||Estimated numbers|
|Make & decorate a bird||4-14||30-50 children|
|Print a bird card||4-14 (and older)||40-50 children and adults|
|Storytelling||3-12 (plus parents)||60-80 children and families|
|Flap your Wings||Families||3-4 families (c. 25)|
|Stories of Home||12-adult||30-50|
|Greg Hunt’s presentation||All ages||30-50|
|BirdLife stand||All ages||c. 200|
*Figures from the Gallery on WMBD