Poppy project proves popular

LOTS OF WORK: Poppy project organisers Margot Bilston and Julie Davies have their sights set on Anzac Day’s display.  Photo courtesy of Shane Chalker Photography.
LOTS OF WORK: Poppy project organisers Margot Bilston and Julie Davies have their sights set on Anzac Day’s display. Photo courtesy of Shane Chalker Photography.

WHEN Margot Bilston and Julie Davies first embarked upon the 5000 Poppies project, they thought it was an ambitious goal to reach.

Photos from the Tuncurry Memorial Park rededication...click here

New memorial to cater for bigger crowds...click here

“In fact, when I announced it to the congregation in church, there was a collective gasp,” laughed Julie, craft convenor for St Alban’s Anglican Church in Forster.  

Instead, with over 13 000 hand crafted poppies rolling in and still counting, it turns out the bar of 5000 was not high enough.

The 5000 Poppies project was originally conceived by two women in Melbourne, as a way for communities to pay tribute to the ‘Australian servicemen and women who have served the country for more than a century of service in wars, conflicts, and peacekeeping operations.’

Their plan to display the poppies as a field in Federation Square on this year’s Anzac Day centenary has far surpassed their original goal, hovering today at over 120 000 poppies.

DEDICATED POPPIES: Some donated poppies have been sent in with personal dedications.

DEDICATED POPPIES: Some donated poppies have been sent in with personal dedications.

Local resident Julie Davies came across the Melbourne project last year, when she was looking for ideas to engage her church actively within the Great Lakes community, whilst also giving the church’s weekly craft group a project to grab with both hands.

She approached the Victorian women for permission to run a similar poppy drive in the Great Lakes, in collaboration with the local Returned Services League (RSL) and received the only condition that the poppies not be put up for sale. 

And so on Anzac Day 2014, the Great Lakes’ great poppy project officially began.

“I’ve been amazed at the community response. There’s been so much interest,” Julie said, pulling out the ‘poppy phone’, so named because she gets so many calls about poppies on it.

“It has really reached out to the wider community. I think it’s because just about everyone has had someone who has served in the forces.”

The poppy has become a symbol of remembrance, immortalised in the words of Lieutenant Colonel John McCrae’s In Flanders Fields in 1915, when fields of poppies flowered on the battlefields in Belgium.

‘In Flanders fields the poppies blow Between the crosses, row on row’

St Albans fellow parishioner Margot Bilston has been coordinating the project with Julie and has boxes upon boxes of poppies accumulating in her home.

The women attribute them to the efforts of up to 300 contributors. Some arrive in the post, some are hand-delivered, some have personal dedications attached to them. Whether they are knitted, crocheted, felted, or sewn, they come in different sizes, based of course around the colour red.

“The patterns are all online,” said Margot, who admitted to coming up with her own pattern deviations to give herself more variety. 

“The buttons have probably been the hardest thing to source, because we’ve needed so many. You don’t have to be particularly crafty to make the poppies, but after awhile of doing the same patterns, it’s good to come up with something new,” she laughed.

In a prelude to Anzac Day, 4500 of the poppies were recently attached to 240m of velcro strips to line the pathways leading up to the re-dedication ceremony of Tuncurry’s war memorial. More were used to write Anzac across the lawn. 

Brooches have been made, some for a gold coin RSL donation, and 800 poppies per sheet are being attached with tagging guns towards a field of poppies in April. 

Many poppies crafted for the Great Lakes 5000 Poppies project have already been distributed for display at memorials such as Bungwahl, Nabiac, Krambach, Bulahdelah, Elizabeth Beach, and Hallidays Point on Anzac Day.

Some have made their way to memorials in Europe. The majority however will be given to the Forster Tuncurry RSL Sub Branch as wreaths and fields of poppies for this year’s Anzac Day service in April. The RSL has committed to displaying them annually until 2018 - the end of the centenary. 

“I wouldn’t be surprised if all up we collect over 15,000,” Julie said.

It would be good if we could have them all in by the end of the month,” Margot added hopefully. 

“But really, we’ll take as many as we can get up until the day.”

Both women are looking forward to Anzac Day for a mix of reasons, admitting they are almost, but not quite, ‘poppied out’.

“It has really taken over our lives,” said Margot.

“We won’t be doing a big project again for a while,” laughed Julie.

Nonetheless, both women were unified in the pleasure the project’s success has given them.

“I think the poppy project really speaks to people. Their poppies are selfless, part of something bigger. They look beautiful, but they’re also a way of paying respect to those who have served,” said Julie.