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A message of hope

A LOCAL community garden is transforming a senseless act of thievery into a message of strength, hope and positivity.

The Heemskirk Community Garden, managed by the Warrane Mornington Neighbourhood Centre, has slowly been taking shape over the past several years, establishing itself as a popular communal garden space where locals could gather and relax, grow their own fruit and veggies, and learn about sustainability.

In 2019, the garden ran a Sponsor a Tree program to aid in the purchase of fruit trees for its new orchard.

Sponsored by politicians, local organisations and community members, these fruit trees were a symbol of generosity and community spirit.

But in August last year, local community members returned to their garden to find several of the fruit trees had been stolen overnight.

“The initial theft was two trees, and then two days later four more were taken,” Warrane Mornington Neighbourhood Centre project officer Leah Brightman said.

“It was very disappointing, and I suppose it’s one of those things where you want to have belief in your community – but things like this do sometimes happen in these types of spaces.”

Determined to reduce the impact of the theft on the garden community, the Neighbourhood Centre teamed up with the Mosaic Association of Australia and New Zealand (MAANZ), Clarence City Council and the local Men’s Shed to send an important message.

Together, the organisations designed and created a number of mosaic stumps, which have now been installed in the vacant fruit tree plots.

Drawing on the talent of Tasmanian and Victorian artists, each stump has been gifted with a unique mosaic design, all centred around and interpreting the theme of hope.

“We wanted to send a message, not just to the person or people who did this but to everybody, and that message is that you won’t beat us,” Ms Brightman said.

“Just because you did something awful, you’re not going to destroy our garden and what we stand for.

“People sponsored those trees, so it’s really important that there is something there to signify their contribution to the garden and all the affected sponsors thought the mosaics were a great idea.”

MAANZ state representative Sue Leitch said the message was clear.

“This theft had hit the community hard and they wanted to do an urgent intervention to support the community and give it hope,” she said.

“I visited and was thrilled to see our mosaics settled into the garden – we are now able to share this story with our members across Australia and the world.”

Among those affected by the theft was tree sponsor Sam Ralph who after the sudden and devastating loss of his uncle and auntie in February last year, wanted to dedicate two trees to their memory and love of gardening.

“I was saddened to hear of the trees being stolen, but at the same time was happy that the community would not let this get the best of them and come together to make something special out of a bad event,” he said.

“I love the work that has been done on the mosaics – they look amazing and I look forward to seeing the garden flourish into the future.

“We have a terrific opportunity to create a beautiful new shared space for us and future generations to enjoy, learn to grow food, and build resilience and community together.”

Ms Brightman said it was important they responded to such a negative event in a positive way.

“I think it’s a symptom of the world at the moment that we always hear about the negative things,” she said.

“Even working in the community there are negative stories, and I guess the potential is that they get bigger than the project itself and colour it into the future.

“We wanted to make sure this incident didn’t colour our garden – we wanted to make it about the mosaics, not the theft.

“People enjoy our garden because it’s a beautiful space and that’s what we want to continue to promote and for people the feel.”

When the time comes to replace the stolen fruit trees, the mosaic stumps will be relocated to another area of the garden.

Caption: Warrane Mornington Neighbourhood Centre project officer Leah Brightman shows off a mosaic stump at the Heemskirk Community Garden.