Hello Koala sculture: theft and fallout

OMA the Hello Koala sculpture with project manager Linda Hall on the day the figure was installed at Longworth Park, in September.
OMA the Hello Koala sculpture with project manager Linda Hall on the day the figure was installed at Longworth Park, in September.

ON Saturday December 20 at around 10pm local police were informed that OMA the Hello Koala sculpture was stolen from Longworth Park.

The fibreglass sculpture was attached to a heavy concrete base by industrial-strength resin, however it appeared thieves managed to prise the figure from the base to remove it from the park.

It was found atop Coles supermarket later that evening and a Camden Haven Courier journalist contacted police, who retrieved the sculpture from the roof.

This is the fourth act of vandalism on the Hello Koalas public art trail. Since the koalas were installed in September, three have been vandalised in Port Macquarie, one of these was stolen. These three have been repaired and re-installed in their same locations.

Anyone with information on the vandalism of the koala is asked to contact Laurieton Police.

The Camden Haven Courier reported the incident via Facebook and the comments received from the public, OMA's sponsor The Whiddon Group, the project's executive director Margaret Meagher and project manager Linda Hall are below:

Margret Meagher, executive director of Arts and Health Australia and the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail issued the following statement and which is reproduced below in full:

The Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail comprises 50 large koala sculptures featuring original hand painted designs by artists, many from the Mid North Coast.

The Trail extends across the Port Macquarie Hastings LGA, to Blackmans Point in the north, Comboyne and Bago in the west and the Camden Haven in the south. Local organization Arts and Health Australia is the owner of the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail. Port Macquarie Hastings Council is the principal sponsor and the Koala Hospital is the principal event partner.

In all, over 100 sponsors, partners and suppliers have contributed to developing this unique attraction for our community, which has already attracted over 30,000 people since the Trail was launched in September.

On Saturday night, 20 December 2014, several people, whose descriptions have been given to police, stole OMA, the Creative Ageing koala sculpture located in Longworth Park and put it in a precarious position on the rooftop of Coles supermarket in Bold Street, Laurieton. In the process, the sculpture was damaged.

We thank the police for returning the koala sculpture safely to us for restoration and we thank the Camden Haven Courier journalist who alerted police to this incident and reported on this event, with photos, on the newspaper’s Facebook page. However, we are concerned about the way the journalist made light of what is, in fact, a serious incident.

Ensuing comments suggest that many people see this theft as a bit of fun and if no damage was incurred, ‘what’s the problem’?

This is the problem.

Theft is theft. Police have described the event in their report as ‘malicious damage’. When did theft and malicious damage become a joking matter?

The sculpture has, in fact, been damaged and will take several weeks to repair, at considerable cost to the owners of the sculptures, Arts and Health Australia – an organisation which designs and manages community events and programs to foster community health and wellbeing. The Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail is not a Port Macquarie Hastings Council owned project.

The photos posted on the Hello Koalas Facebook page (www.hellokoalas.com) are testament to how much the sculptures are being admired by locals and visitors to the region - which is good for the community, good for tourism and good for local business.

This is the busiest time of the year but people will not be able to see all 50 koala sculptures because one was stolen and is now missing from the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail. There is already mass public disappointment and the Hello Koalas office will remain open to field enquiries throughout the holiday period. That takes time and has an associated cost.

OMA, the Creative Ageing koala, has been sponsored by The Whiddon Group, with an aged care facility in Laurieton. The staff and residents are saddened by this thoughtless act of vandalism. OMA is the inspiration for an art, poetry and dementia program, conceived by Arts and Health Australia, which will be delivered to Whiddon residents in 2015.

On behalf of all who have contributed to the Hello Koalas Sculpture project, Arts and Health Australia asks that people respect these beautiful and original artworks and consider what the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail is bringing to the community - an outstanding new attraction for locals and visitors who are exploring the Port Macquarie Hastings region, bringing increased custom for a range of local businesses and ensuring ongoing employment and engagement of local people, suppliers and contractors.

The recent post on the Hello Koalas Sculpture Project facebook page (www.hellokoalas.com) links to a video of a person, exploring the Trail with his son, capturing all 50 koala sculptures in just 6 hours last Saturday. The video includes the two sculptures in Laurieton. One of those sculptures is now not in Longworth Park because it was stolen later that same evening.

A new home for the damaged koala sculpture is now being considered by Arts and Health Australia but it will not return to Longworth Park, which is deemed to be unsafe. The location of the second koala sculpture in Laurieton is also under review, pending a demonstration of community support.

Through the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail, Port Macquarie Hastings is becoming known as the place to see engaging and innovative examples of public art.

The BBC’s travel program has promoted the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail to its 70 million viewers worldwide as one of the 6 best events in the world for September 2014. Just last week, The Daily Telegraph featured the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail, with a colourful spread in its Best Weekend section.

This week, the media are reporting on the theft of a koala sculpture in the Camden Haven. It is not a good news story, no matter how amusing it might seem to be.

So what’s it to be? If you would like to see the two koala sculptures remain on the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail in the Camden Haven, let us know by emailing info@hellokoalas.com and telling your friends.

Margret Meagher

Executive Director

Arts and Health Australia and the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail

- Please share your thoughts on this story with the Courier by commenting below, or emailing the editor at kate.dwyer@fairfaxmedia.com.au