Women Connecting Within Communities

March 27, 2018

One woman’s passion

Never under estimate your passion, nor your worth. You will be surprised how one small nagging concept has the ability to bloom into reality and ignite individuals and communities with a renewed sense of self-worth and community pride.

One such person who has injected life and passion into a small community is North West Tasmanian local artist, educator, historian and much more, Anne Dunham. Anne recently received a certificate of recognition as she was nominated for the 2018 Citizen of the Year by the Waratah Wynyard Council in North West Tassie.

How the journey began

It all began a number of years ago when Anne took over a family property in Waratah and during regular visits to the old mining town her passion for the local history grew as did her connection with the local women and men.  It could almost be called fate when the Anglican Church decided to release their heritage listed 1880 Gothic wooden St James Anglican Church to the marketplace.

It was an opportunity almost too good to be true and approximately two years ago Anne and her partner Tony Schmidt embarked on a new journey. They could not let this little treasure go and purchased the church which is now called St James Church Gallery and History Centre.

By this time they had both formed a bond with the local community and knew they could do more to support the struggling town of approximately 227 people. They recognised the churches uniqueness and felt a sense of spirituality from the time they walked up the original light grey sandstone steps. When they first entered through the tiny crimson clothed double doors they were greeted by an aura of rainbow light that emitted through leadlight windows, and knew this had to be theirs.

It was understandable how they feel in love with the building. Very little had changed and the original Baltic pine timber walls and ceiling had been well preserved as were the rows of man-made pews, lined up in wait for their spiritual parishioners. None-the-less hard elbow grease was necessary for an historical property that was left to wither.

The church portrays a unique ambience, as do the stories behind the miners and their families who once sought solace from the harsh mining life in Waratah and the surrounding Tarkine area.  It typifies what was once a true mining town however that sense of communal togetherness still remains.

Community gathering point

During my recent trip to Tasmania I asked Anne what inspired them to purchase the church. From Anne’s perspective, as an art teacher who had previously worked in other small Tasmanian towns, she was aware of her strong sense and desire for community kinship and saw this as an opportunity to become a type of caretaker icon for the local folk.

Traditionally the church was “the central gathering point for the local resident’s and the only one in the area”. Anne and Tony felt there was potential for this sense of belonging to be enhanced and shared by utilising the church in a different way.

They were unsure on how to go about it until Anne had one of her artistic ‘ah ha’ moments and thought why not create a wedding scene and have an opening day for all to attend with a photographic exhibition.

From there word spread as members of the community wanted to be involved. They volunteered their time as they yearned to be linked to their ancestral connections. They contributed old family photos from days gone by, including an original wedding dress that stands today inside the church.

Three hundred plus people came from far and wide to attend the opening day. Anne and Tony provided a high tea under a large marque on the church lawns and in true form, the local men and women provided support with the catering and service. The day was a reminder of how success can be achieved by a community working together.  A number of anecdotes and stories were shared as remaining old timers viewed the large range of historical wedding photos and tears were shed as they caught up with old faces they still remembered.

A sense of purpose for the local women and families

Needless to say Anne’s ‘theme scheme’ expanded and in 2017, following her huge amount of research and liaising with the locals, an ANZACS commemoration exhibition was held at St James. They also managed to locate the 1915 Honour Roll for display. Anne spent exhaustive hours scanning donated photos of serving soldiers, from all the wars, on display for a number of weeks.

She applied for funding and was able to produce more than 200 ceramic poppies with the help of the enthusiastic residents. Anne taught them to make the poppies that she later fired and glazed in the symbolic red. The poppies were attached to wire and staked into the grass on ANZAC day in a wave of splatted red that headed towards the Waratah waterfall to symbolise the spirit of the soldiers.

Anne has since inspired the local ladies to be involved in the formation of a textile blanket of poppies made from fabric, crochet and knitting, that will be displayed in the gallery from 25 April 2018. Every weekend the women continue to work together under Anne’s direction to prepare for the looming date. For further information visit Facebook’s “Waratahs’ Poppy Projects” page.

Recently Anne has been instrumental in gathering photos from the families of mining ancestors and displays them in the gallery. Along with Anne’s slumped glass jewellery are items crafted by the local women and fascinating books produced by local historians and authors, available for purchase. St James has also been used as a venue for weddings and overall has become known as a “Gallery of Stories”.

It just goes to show how one woman’s leadership and passion can connect, motivate and nurture women from diverse backgrounds and provide a community with a renewed sense of hope.

Oh, did I mention Anne Dunham happens to be my sister!

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She Society is a site for the women of Australia to share our stories, our experiences, shared learnings and opportunities to connect.