Senior knitters pitch in to create lifesaving sculpture

THE women of Sydney's Bougainvillea Retirement Village are honoured to have been part of the scores of knitters who contributed to the sculpture Lookout For Me.

The 4.5m high tribute sculpture stands proudly on Tamarama Beach as part of this year's Sculpture by the Sea. It's a high red watch tower encased in 500 individually knitted surf lifesaving red and yellow flags, each of which carry the name of the knitter and a beach that has a meaning to them.

Group coordinator Gill Stemp, 81, and her craft room friends, Cathy Andrews, 85, Gladys Benjamin, 95 and Shirley Cowell, 89, put their knitting skills to work to produce about 20 flags each which adorn the structure conceived by sculptor Linton Meagher.

"Quite an honour", "pleasing", "something different", "tell all my friends" was this group's reaction to Linton's request for help.

It's not something any of them have done before, nor did they expect to ever have the chance to contribute to anything like the internationally acclaimed Sculpture by the Sea which will attracts about 500,000 visitors each year.

Another village resident, the sprightly Nance Kimber at 102 years old, introduced Linton to the craft group. Nancy knew Linton, 42, from when she lived close by to Linton's family home.

"I have known Linton since he was young," Nance said as Linton looked on in mutual admiration.

Linton, who is a neuropsychiatrist with a particular interest in Parkinson's, was inspired by his deep respect for his elderly grandfather Harry Mills, who died recently at 102, and from working with elderly people.

"I realised there was a very strong need for connection and the elderly are very keen to be engaged, to be part of the community," Linton said.

He also took inspiration for his third-time entry to this exhibition from his memory of the 2015 southern bush fires when rescuers were inundated when the call was made for knitted mittens for injured koalas. "I thought, all these people out there who knit, and are very keen to be involved," Linton said. "When they see an opportunity like that, they want to pitch in and get involved."

INSPIRATIONAL: Bouganvillea Retirement Resort resident Nance Kimber with family friend and Sculpture by the Sea artist, Linton Meagher.
INSPIRATIONAL: Bouganvillea Retirement Resort resident Nance Kimber with family friend and Sculpture by the Sea artist, Linton Meagher. Tracey Johnstone

Linton engaged the support of three different groups to knit the iconic red and yellow flags. There was the group from Bougainvillea, another from his grandfather's Crowley Retirement Village in Ballina and the third from east Sydney's Beehive Industries which is a social enterprise supporting seniors and persons with disability.

The active lifesaver said the flags have a dual meaning.

"There's the lifeguard tower looking over the beach, looking out over swimmers," Linton said. "The eyes on the flags, which have been crocheted or appliqued on and which some were done by years 3 and 4 students from SCEGS Darlinghurst next to the Beehive, is about the multi-generations looking out for the elderly.

"What impressed me was the hard-working nature of the people who were keen to pitch in and deliver without too much fuss or draw attention to themselves; very different to working with the younger generation," he added.

The Bougainvillea craft group's reaction is "fantastic" to finally seeing their hard work on display. "I could visualise the stand with the seat on top, but not really what it would end up looking like," Gill said.

KNITTED ART: Linton Meagher's entry in this year's Sculpture by the Sea, Lookout For Me, is on the sand at Tamrama Beach. It's made of wood, marine grade stainless steel, aryclic wool, acrylic paint and cotton.
KNITTED ART: Linton Meagher's entry in this year's Sculpture by the Sea, Lookout For Me, is on the sand at Tamrama Beach. It's made of wood, marine grade stainless steel, aryclic wool, acrylic paint and cotton. C Yee

Each of the women has a different past connection with surf lifesaving such as Shirley whose husband and his father were lifesavers at Mereweather Beach, while Cathy was rescued from a rip at Avalon when she was just 15.

All of them want to see the final sculpture before the exhibition closes on November 5.

"My son will take me there," Shirley said.

"I will be telling all my friends to go," Cathy added.

"If I am lucky, my daughter might take me to see it. Oh yes, I would like to see it," Nancy contributed.

For information on Sculpture by the Sea, go to www.sculpturebythesea.com.

Facts - Linton Meagher

  • Born in Sydney
  • Studied art at the Julian Ashton School and at the University of Sydney,, and completed a Bachelor of Arts, majoring in Fine Arts, in 1996.
  • He comes from an artistic family.
  • Linton's work explores taking things out of their usual context and then displaying them on mass where they take on a different meaning.
  • His work has evolved from traditional oil on canvas works to mixed media works using resin and perspex.
  • He has had solo exhibitions in London, Sydney and Hong Kong. 

Facts - Sculpture by the Sea

  • This is the 21st year in Sydney.
  • Held every annually at Bondi, NSW and Cottlesloe, WA.
  • Close to 500 submissions from 31 countries around the world were received.
  • 100 sculptures were selected.
  • They are displayed along a 2km stretch of the coastal path from Bondi Beach to Tamarama Beach.
  • The 2017 exhibition finishes on November 5. 

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