BLOG

Stay tuned to our blog page for the latest news on community events and news surrounding the Homefront Project or join us on our Facebook page.

The Making of ‘Vietnam’

After its conception, ‘Vietnam’ quickly became the most complex and symbolic of the first set of Homefront sculptures. It was the most difficult to design, going through several drafts before the design was finalised, (with a few last alterations completed one day before carving was due to commence.)

The majority of our writing workshops were made up of Vietnam War Veterans, so there was plenty of material to take inspiration from. Through this writing and many conversations, the veterans candidly expressed the anguish and frustration of this war, their awkward and heartbreaking homecoming and the near-impossible task of readjusting into civilian lives. The difficulty in designing ‘Vietnam’ was in distilling all the material they had shared into a figure that was a worthy representation of their collective experiences.

In the face of the ‘Vietnam’ figure, master carver Hikaru Kodama has managed to capture the pain of war and its ongoing physical and mental burden. Hikaru has merged the legs of the soldier into the base, with hands rising up from the ground to grasp the soldier’s legs; symbolic of the inescapable grip of memory. Hikaru visited the Shrine of Remembrance to study the Australian uniform worn during the Vietnam War, including the type of backpacks used and the accessories soldiers carried. Further detailed reference was provided by Diggerworks at the Victoria Barracks who have an astonishing collection of historic and contemporary military uniforms. The gun carried by the soldier will eventually have a steel barrel made by a local gunsmith. The eyepatch was inspired by veteran Bill Cantwell who was shot in the eye during the war and survived.

In many of the veterans’ stories, Bell UH-1 Iroquoi helicopters, known as ‘Hueys’ and rubber plantations featured prominently. They are both seen by the veterans as the most prominent symbols of the Vietnam War. The steel screen that curves around the soldier features an intricate design made up of these two icons; a helicopter formation and layers of rubber tree leaves. The surprise for the Homefront team was seeing people place red paper poppies in the metal perforations in the screen. With the ‘Huey’ screen covered in poppies, ‘Vietnam’ was a haunting and beautiful sight on the ANZAC Day sunset in the Park.

Unveiling the First Set of Sculptures

On a perfect sunlit afternoon the first of the Homefront sculptures were unveiled to local residents, war veterans and friends. Mayor Mark Di Pasquale gave a warm opening speech that reflected his enthusiastic support for this project. Local veterans unwound rope and cloth and revealed each sculpture to gasps and applause.

‘Justin the Tracker Dog’ was unveiled by Justin’s last handler, Denis Rowlands, who remarked on the day; “You know, it’s been fifty years since I’ve seen my dog.” Justin, like the other tracker dogs was given to a family in Vietnam and did not return to Australia. Denis is delighted that he (and his current dog,) can visit Justin’s sculpture in the Park. Justin’s stainless steel collar was forged by local blacksmith Roland Dannenhauer. The figure of the dog was carved by Eltham carver Leigh Conkie. ‘Justin’ seems to be a favourite of our young local people who love to give him a hug.

‘Modern Combat’ was unveiled by Afghanistan War veteran Simon Thorn. Simon is part of the Homefront Sculpture Steering Committee and his input on this particular sculpture refined the final design.

‘Reunion’ was unveiled by World War II veteran Ron Cornelius, who unveiled the boy, and Lee Webb, President of the Greensborough RSL and Vietnam War veteran, who unveiled the soldier. Ron was a passionate member of our writing workshops, writing pages of stories and memories of his life before and during the war. Filmmaker Mike Wilkins has captured a beautiful interview with Ron and his wife Ellen talking about their lives and Ron’s return from war. (The footage will soon be added to this site.)

Lee Webb has been instrumental in supporting the Homefront Sculpture project and, as part of the Steering Committee, will be active throughout the next series of sculptures.

The final sculpture, ‘Vietnam’ was unveiled by Bill Cantwell who, along with a number of fellow Vietnam War veterans, inspired this sculpture with stories of his war experiences.

Special thanks to Cultural Services Team Leader, Colin James who has worked behind the scenes throughout this project, including organising the unveiling event and campaigning for a number of years to make the Homefront Sculptures possible.

Robert Winther, Veteran Liaison Officer at the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital concluded with a memorable speech in which he imagined himself as the boy of the ‘Reunion’ sculpture.

With much gratitude we acknowledge the weeks of work undertaken under the hot summer sun by carvers Hikaru Kodama and Leigh Conkie. Their attention to the tiniest detail, the expressive faces and grandeur of the figures have fittingly honoured our servicemen and women and put some magic in our Park.

Installation Day!

Finally the Homefront sculptures have been placed in their new home in Greensborough War Memorial Park. Thanks to Truline Engineering who delicately picked the sculptures up and carried them safely to the Park. Roland, our blacksmith, was ready with his forge and hammer to shape the steel collar around Justin’s neck, (which comes with a dog tag with Justin’s name and number.) As Roland was working, we had our first canine visitor who seemed to approve.

The sculptures have been covered in cloth, they will be unveiled on Sunday 22 April at 3pm. All are welcome to attend the unveiling and to join us afterwards at Greensborough RSL to view Mike Wilkin’s film of the making of the sculptures as well as interviews with our local war veterans who have been supporting this project.

Sculptures Completed and Foundations Dug

Work has begun at Greensborough War Memorial Park with foundations being dug for the Homefront sculptures and the concrete poured. Each sculpture will have a meter of concrete beneath it with a reinforcement cage. The steel footings are currently being fabricated, so these new sculptures will sit well above the ground. The base of each sculpture is also being painted with a thick waterproof coating. The original sculptures which were still in the ground suffered from water damage over the years. These new foundations and footings will keep the new sculptures from this type of damage, so they will last for many more years than the originals.

The carvers have completed their work, having endured long sweltering weeks carving throughout the summer. The new sculptures are stunning, with exceptionally expressive faces and detailed uniforms. They are currently being coated in a marine-grade clear finish to preserve them. Justin the Tracker Dog is having extra work done to him with a black stain to be applied under the clear finish and Roland, our blacksmith to forge him a collar from stainless steel. Roland will bring his forge and anvil to Greensborough War Memorial Park once the sculptures are installed in order to fit the collar. Steel nameplates with the names of all eleven tracker dogs will be fixed around the base of the sculpture.

The First Figure Emerges

The figures are starting to come to life, from rough blocked-out shapes to highly detailed forms. Hikaru is a master of the human figure and is known for his remarkable detail and expression. The male figure is based on local Afghanistan veteran Joel Sardi who kindly lent us reference images of him in uniform and modelled for the facial features.

The female figure is also starting to emerge, wearing the uniform worn in East Timor.

A new gallery has been uploaded to this site showing all the designs for the sculptures, drawing up the figures on the block of wood and the carving. See our Gallery page to follow the progress of the work.