Homefront Sculpture Project Stage 2

We are excited to confirm that Stage Two of the Homefront Sculpture Project will be going ahead, with Banyule City Council recently approving the funding. The final four sculptures: Lighthorse, Pilot and Sailor, World War I Nurse and The Letter will be carved over the next couple of months and installed in Greensborough War Memorial Park in November.

Leigh Conkie is currently organising all the wood we’ll need for these pieces (two of them are quite large!) and Hikaru is planning to fly in from Japan in September to start the carving with Leigh. There will be quite a bit of metalwork on this set of sculptures and we’ll be planning the forging with our blacksmith, Roland this week.

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.

Carving Begins

Master chainsaw carver Hikaru Kodama has begun work on the first sculpture for Greensborough War Memorial Park. This first piece is of two contemporary soldiers; one dressed in the Australian army uniform worn in Afghanistan, one in the uniform worn in East Timor.

The carver of the original sculptures, Leigh Conkie, has been busy organising wood, scaffolding, chainsaws and providing art direction for Hikaru. Leigh will begin work on the dog sculpture in the coming weeks.

Hikaru Kodama is a leading chainsaw artist in Japan. When not travelling the world carving his stunning figures, Hikaru works for the Shimokawa Forestry Union. He has worked in partnership with Leigh Conkie for some years and will be working on this project for the two weeks he is in Australia.

As part of the research behind the new sculptures for Greensborough War Memorial Park, the artists visited the Shrine of Remembrance in Melbourne this week to have a look at an Australian Army uniform worn in Afghanistan. Special thanks to Assistant Curator Dr. Ian Jackson who made arrangements for us to visit after hours and photograph details of the uniform.

We were also allowed to view the collection at Diggerworks at the Victoria Barracks in Melbourne, thanks to Major Cameron Lane. The Barracks has examples of the uniform worn in East Timor, which the female figure will be wearing.

The New Designs Unveiled

Designs for the new sculptures have been completed and were on display for public comment during the Fire Ceremony last night. The sculptures cover theatres of war from the Boer War to present day conflict in Afghanistan.

The ever-popular dog sculpture will be replaced with another war dog, this time a tracker dog, based on the experience of a local veteran who served as a dog handler in the Vietnam War. The other very popular sculpture, of the nurse, will also be replaced with a WWI nurse.

It is planned that the sculptures will be completed in two stages; Stage One includes four sculptures of six figures in total, due for completion by 25 April 2018. These sculptures include the tracker dog, an injured soldier, two modern soldiers; a male soldier in the uniform worn in Afghanistan and a female soldier in the uniform worn in East Timor, and a figure of a young boy running towards his father coming home from deployment.

Stage Two, subject to approval, will include a Lighthorseman, a WWI nurse, a woman receiving a letter from a soldier, a WWII pilot and a WWII sailor. These sculptures are currently planned for completion in November 2018.

Ceremonial Fire

The sculptures in Greensborough War Memorial Park made by Leigh Conkie fourteen years ago were burnt in a ceremonial fire in the Park on Saturday evening. The sculptures were a much loved-part of Greensborough, but had been ravaged by moisture over the years and were starting to fall apart. Work on designs for new sculptures to replace them has recently been completed. The new sculptures will be mounted in a way to prevent similar issues with moisture and will last significantly longer than the original pieces.

The magnificent fire sculpture built from the original figures was created by Macgregor Knox and his team; well known for their spectacular fire sculptures which are a feature of Montsalvat’s annual winter solstice celebration. The ceremonial fire was lit in each of the four corners by World War II Veteran; Ron Cornelius, Vietnam Veteran; Denis Rowlands, Afghanistan Veteran; Simon Thorn, and Berdene Oxley-Boyd currently serving at the Watsonia Barracks.

While it was very sad to see the Greensborough War Memorial Park sculptures go, the fire was a beautiful event that bought local people together with war veterans; remembering those past and present who dedicated themselves to serving our country.

Work on the new sculptures will continue throughout this year, they will be installed in the park in April 2018.

Thankyou to everyone who came to see the fire, met some of our local war veterans and shared their comments on the designs for the new sculptures.

Farewell fire celebration!

In the past week, Chainsaw artist Leigh Conkie removed the original sculptures he carved 14 years ago in Greensborough War Memorial Park. We’ve had some lovely messages from people on social media who have expressed their fondness for them and have said how much they will be missed. (We’re happy to say that the very popular dog will find a new home at the Heidelberg Repatriation Hospital.)

It’s a bit sad to see all the bare tree stumps in the park, and it will be bare for a while; the new sculptures are due to arrive in April 2018.

In the meantime, we’re saying farewell to the sculptures in a ceremonial fire at Greensborough War Memorial Park this Saturday 9 September from 6pm. Local artist (and fire expert,) Macgregor Knox will be building the fire. Macgregor is known for his spectacular solstice fires at Montsalvat. Please join us by the fire, say farewell and see the sketches for the new sculptures planned for the park.