This is my address at our Christmas breakup yesterday … It was really lovely to get together in a big social group and just chat …
I often say I could talk for hours about this project … so settle in …
I was sitting in the Canberra airport on Tuesday after the launch of the Australian War Memorial’s program for Remembrance Day 2018 by Dr Brendan Nelson, and I have to admit I was feeling rather proud and very, very excited
What a stage for our final installation … what a stunning backdrop for this amazing tribute created by many, many thousands of hands across the world with so much love, honour and respect.
We have been working on what I like to call “our lovely little community project” for nearly five years now and by the time we complete our AWM installation it will be nearly six. At that time we will have completed at least nine major installations both in Australia and overseas, a well as many smaller ones in Victoria. We will have made, collected and processed some 370,000 poppies, onto nets, stems, strings and pins, spawned a plethora of 5000 Poppies inspired projects all over the world and connected many thousands of people of all ages from 2 to 102 from many different cultural backgrounds through our tribute.
Marg and I always knew that what we started was special … you all know the story … in my heart it was about my dad … and for Marg … it was about her dad … so it was ALWAYS going to be special. But, wow … the response from the community was so immediate and so very, very powerful. And now it’s about our collective stories … fathers and mothers, grandfathers and grandmothers, great grandfathers and great grandmothers, brothers, sisters, sons, daughters, uncles and aunts, friends, colleagues …
And if you had asked me how it would end up when we started out in 2013 … we simply had no way of knowing where it would lead. Although, once we went public and people started sending us their poppies … I admit we had an inkling that it would be big … but BIG is relative … big compared to what? And it is … BIG … in so many ways … and that’s part of the beauty of it.
For those of you have been with us since very early on … firstly making a few poppies and then a few more, and then tagging poppies onto nets for Fed Square and then making stems for Chelsea and then back again to repair and rejuvenate the nets and stems ready for the next installation … and then this year – with our install at the Shrine in November, our Vic RSL commitment and, of course, the AWM installation … it has continued to be a HUGE physical and emotional task that we have undertaken.
We have had a wonderful journey so far. And it has been hard work … and I know I say it a lot but we are … I am … so grateful for your commitment, your incredible work ethic and most of all your unwavering belief, support and friendship.
For those who have joined us recently, your response has been overwhelming … such an incredibly powerful message of love and respect. It feels so much louder this time for some reason … perhaps because it’s recent and perhaps is because there are so many … such is the depth of feeling for those among our community who have served and those who still serve … and particularly for those who have made the ultimate sacrifice … not forgetting their families.
There is much written about our staggering losses, particularly in World War I. Those who never returned home to their loved ones, and those many many more whose lives were forever changed on so many levels in the aftermath. A loss is a loss, and each loss leaves a trail of devastation that is handed down from generation to generation. The wider impact is truly beyond comprehension.
There are few among us whose lives have not been touched by war in some way … and your dedications and stories reflect the impact that War has had on our lives. And THAT is why this tribute is so powerful.
We are a proud and grateful nation. And this has been our way of saying thank you …
LEST WE FORGET!
So … for our final year in 2018, we have a very big program. The AWM this week has formally announced that 5000 Poppies will install 62,000 of our beautiful handcrafted poppies in the lawns of the Memorial in and around the new Flanders Memorial Garden to commemorate the Centenary of Armistice. 62,000, as we know, reflects the number of brave Australian souls who were lost in World War I …
But while Marg and I have always maintained that this project about all of our servicemen and women, their families and their wider communities … the AWM installation will be a stunning tribute to the fallen of WWI, the perfect centerpiece for the AWM’s Remembrance program to mark the Centenary, and a magnificent finale. Our installation will be in situ for five weeks from 5 October through to 12 November, and during that time will be enhanced by an evocative curated music selection by Chris Latham, and a light show in the evenings, together with a number of other special events throughout that period.
I urge you to keep your eye on the AWM website and facebook page if you are planning to visit. I expect there will be many of our Poppy Tribe visiting Canberra during that time … so good to know that you will have a five week window of opportunity. The expectation is that Remembrance Day 2018 will be huge. And although it will be a free ticketed event … tickets will be limited, and you will need to apply for tickets when they become available (somewhere around October 2018).
We are also in various stages of planning a couple of other major installations for the Centenary next year … one in Launceston (Tasmania), and two other major installations which are yet to be confirmed. There will be more on these next year as the stories unfold. And before all of that, there is Anzac Day.
As always there are many people to thank … I am always terrified of leaving out a name and it is not particularly politic to say you know who you are … but the list is 50,000 plus people long and getting longer every day. So to all our poppy makers thank you from the bottom of our hearts … we will do you proud. To all those who show up for everything to help … whether it be sorting mail, sewing on buttons, fixing broken poppies, washing and drying grubby poppies, i-cording, gooping, installing … and the myriad of other tasks … thank you. To those who run workshops all over the country … and take on the role of collectors … which I still find amazing … thank you. To the East Malvern RSL … a huge thank you for your continued support … it’s been such a relief to be able to spread out. To our financial backers, our spruikers and everyone in between. Thank you … no amount of thank you’s will ever be enough. To Kate … thank you. To Phillip who continues to challenge us raise our own bar … thank you. To my wonderful core team … seriously … I love you all, and consider myself incredibly fortunate to have you in my life. thank you also to Deb and Meredith who have taken on the task of chronicling our contributors and their dedications (it is not an easy task). To Taso who created and maintains our logo and marketing materials … literally our face to to world … thank you. And of course to Margie, who, despite her early misgivings about how out of control a project like this might (and did) get … said let’s do it.
So, as we close out 2017 … I wish you all a truly wonderful Christmas filled with your favourite people and much, much joy. Relax and enjoy the break because when we resume on 23 January next year … it will be all hands on deck for our final year.
With love and gratitude