Phil Price ‘Eden’ in Batlow Unveiling | Speech by Janet Peel, ‘Do it for Batlow’, Batlow Community Representative

Posted: March 11, 2024 / Essays Snowy Valleys Sculpture Trail

Phil Price, ‘Eden’, Snowy Valleys Sculpture Trail at Batlow. Photo Grant Hardwick

What a pleasure and honour to be asked by David to speak on behalf of the Batlow Community today.

A very warm Batlow welcome to our all distinguished guests here today.

For those of you who haven’t had the pleasure of meeting me my name is Janet Peel and I am proud to say I am Batlow born and bred.  I feel I have had a privileged life being born and growing up in in this beautiful small country town.  I married the love of my life Rodney Peel at the tender age of 19 and he was 20.  We raised three children and have lived through a lot of changes in our little community with many highs and lows.

Batlow’s community is made up of people whose families have been here for generations and people who have only moved here recently.  I am so proud and happy to call Batlow my home and I get so excited when I hear about people have moved to the area.

I look at this life as a journey and as I mentioned just before we all acknowledge that life has many ups and downs and it’s all part of the human experience. We all stand here today united, linked and connected at this special moment in time.

As we all know our little town and Snowy Valleys experienced a very big low during the horrific black summer bushfires four years ago.  These fires were life changing both individually plus for our community as a whole.

There is a saying that goes like this:

You never know how strong you are until being strong is your only choice.

This saying proved to be true over that horrific and dreadful time as every single precious human living in our little town and the surrounding towns in the Snowy Valleys had to dig deep and find strength and resilience, they didn’t know they had.  The Batlow district was undoubtedly the worst hit and directly impacted by the black summer bushfires.  Batlow was declared “Undefendable”.

This is where I would like to express a very heartfelt and sincere thank you to all the emergency services, special mention to the local RFS volunteers, the bucket brigade and most importantly all the other brave people who chose to stay behind to save and defend our town.  Some of those brave people are present here with us today.  I truly wish there was more I could say that would express to you all just what this meant to us as individuals but also as a town.

I would also like to mention and thank our Publican’s for staying open and feeding our brave men, serving beers and providing a safe place to come to feel connected and supported.

It’s important for me as a woman of faith to acknowledge and thank God for his hand over our town and its people and for the people who said prayers of faith during this critical time.

When people were gradually allowed to come back and it was safe – and we would go to IGA to pick up a few groceries you ended up being down there for a lot longer than anticipated as you would be crying with your friends, sharing love and stories together.

I am part of a committee called Do It For Batlow and one might say this committee was formed out of the ashes.  As you can see our little hard-working committee are hosting the barbecue this afternoon.

I would like to say a very sincere thank you to Dr Joe McGirr who has there with us every step of the way giving his full support, commitment, love and care to us all in our recovery journey.

The journey after a natural disaster is unique to each individual and we certainly openly acknowledge our wholehearted thanks to so many organisations too many to name that stepped in to assist in the rebuilding process.  You know who you are and some of you are also here today.

The Healing Journey is different for everyone… while time is a great healer people need to heal at their own pace.  Some people who experienced the Black Summer Fires have made peace with this experience and are ready to move forward. But for others, the fear of those days is still ever present and they continue to need our support and understanding, particularly those who went into that summer already vulnerable. Everyone was impacted differently. We need to continue to be patient and kind, and not judge the pace at which people heal, nor the place that they arrive at when they do.

This is where I think it is pertinent and super exciting to mention something extraordinary that happened as we met David Handley founding CEO and artistic director of the prestigious organisation Sculpture by the Sea.  I distinctly remember the first meeting Do It For Batlow had with David in our local Art Studio mid-2020.  They applied for an amazing grant through NSW Government’s Bushfire Local Economic Recovery Fund and were successful – from this the Snowy Valleys Sculpture trail came to life.

This is one of the stories of triumph – showcasing the indomitable human spirit and this project getting the green light was such a source of joy and played a vital part in seeing our community rise and rebuild their lives.  The Sculpture Trail is a significant cultural tourist attraction which has helped with the socio-economic recovery of the area.

I think the Snowy Valleys Sculpture Trail tells a story by connecting the towns in the Snowy Valleys, embracing all ages and creating a sense of community.  The partnership, relationship and bond we now share with David and his whole team from Sculpture by the Sea is unbreakable.

As we all stand here today with the unveiling of our latest magnificent sculpture “Eden” there is a real sense of great excitement.  I commend the very talented New Zealand artist Phil Price for bringing Eden to life for us all to enjoy.  Also, I warmly welcome and acknowledge Mr Bill Dobbie, Consul-General of New Zealand.

I asked a very special local lady what Eden represented for her and I totally agree with her sentiments.

“Eden” is a symbol of forever moving – in time, in place, forward, onwards and upwards in growth and hope.

As we continue this journey together, we go forward even stronger, more resolute, resilient and positive about the future of our wonderful community.

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