The Woolly West Fest in Western Victoria proclaims to be the largest (geographically speaking) community arts project in Victoria, and possibly even Australia!
It was founded in 2014, by two changemakers who took up the challenge to do something “fun and meaningful for the community.”
“When we first pitched our idea to run a wool festival that captured a theme of a childrens’ book,” smiles festival co-founder Naomi Turner, “we received a lot of blank looks.”
In fact, Naomi surprised even herself, as she doesn’t even have any wool-crafting skills. Despite this, she knew the festival would work because wool is so deeply connected to the community’s identity. “Despite the recent loss of our tagline of ‘Wool Capital of the World’, wool is clearly deeply ingrained in the regional psyche. “Wool is as important to western Victoria as gold is to places like Bendigo and Ballarat.”
Teaming up with self-confessed serial volunteer and wool creative, Jacinta Wareham, they devised a theme for the festival. Wanting to avoid the well-done, yarn-bombing phenomena, they decided to create a theme for the festival using children’s books about sheep or wool.
“Where is the Green Sheep,” by Mem Fox and Judy Horacek, was their first book theme. Armed with flat-packed timber sheep (courtesy of the Hamilton Men’s Shed), they approached eight small towns in the area and invited them to yarn bomb a sheep to create a coloured flock.
“What a nutty idea, I must be a part of this,” was Mem Fox’s response when Naomi emailed her with an outline of the festival—and from there on, the event was on. At this point in the project, Naomi describes the panic and pressure of having to extract this crazy idea from their heads and turn it into an actual project.
A feeling that many changemakers would know well. “It was so important to include all eight towns,” Naomi explained. “We needed to ensure everyone got the idea—and got involved in a way that was fun and meaningful for them.”
This year they took it a step further, with a total of eleven towns yarn-bombing a model of something that was significant to their own community, to form a woollen ‘diorabaaa’ of the shire.
A literacy program based around the book runs concurrently in the region’s schools.
“It has all worked really well, because wool is something that everyone can get behind,” she said. “The risk and terror of starting something new was worth it—my advice to all changemakers is to find the thing that your community can rally around and hang your beanie on that.”