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Sew What for Wildlife

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by Jo Harris (subscribe)
I love the things we have here in South Australia – the fabulous food, wine, people and places – beauty everywhere. And, for more beauty in my life, I own and operate a gorgeous little gallery called Mrs Harris’ Shop:
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Take a new look at Magpies - meet Penguin Bloom
If the arts and ecology are your 'thing', then a developing program in the state's Riverland could well be just the place to indulge.

The McCormick Centre for the Environment in Renmark runs a diverse program of exhibitions and activities and provides a base from which community groups can operate.

McCormick Centre
Entrance to McCormick Centre for the Environment (photo: Renmark Paringa Council)

One such group is part of a 'cast of thousands' involved in a coming exhibition – one with a great story behind it.

Sew what for wildlife has two parts. It features slings for injured birds made by a local group of sewing volunteers, plus a series of beautiful photographs from Sydney based artist Cameron Bloom's collection of Penguin Bloom, a little magpie that saved a family.

volunteers at McCormick Centre
Sewing for wildlife (photo: Terry Marter)

What's the connection between the two?' you might ask.

Alex Randall, Arts and Environment Officer for the McCormick Centre, designed the bird sling when she was caring for an injured magpie. She rescued the now 20 year-old Iddy when he was a baby and needed help to recover from a spinal injury that left him unable to stand or walk. He was not expected to survive, but after ten days in the sling, he walked out – a new bird.

Injured baby magpie in the sling. Photo: Terry Marter

Now, the volunteer sewing group makes slings for local birds. They are then decorated by local artists, using images of the landscape, leaves and blossom from the bird's habitats.

Alex was searching on-line for images of magpies and chanced upon an image that led her to Cameron Bloom's collection, plus news of the impending launch of Penguin Bloom, written by Trevor Bradley Grieve. The book has since become Australia's #1 biography/memoir of 2016 and is soon to be published internationally.

Penguin was a small, vulnerable chick when Cameron's son, Noah, found her lying on the grass after being blown out of her nest, 20 metres up a Norfolk Island pine. Without care, she would have died.

Penguin Bloom
Rescued: Penguin and Noah (Photo: Cameron Bloom)

What follows is a poignant story.

Cameron's wife, Sam, had suffered a fall that had shattered her spine and left her paralysed and wheel-chair bound. Penguin, the little magpie, joined the family and, from Cameron's account, brought untold happiness. She became a soul-mate for Sam and, in addition, helped the whole family to heal. Photographing Penguin's journey also taught Cameron much about nature and how important it is to our own well-being.

Alex's eco-arts program aims to build empathy between people and wildlife, particularly birds – and she is sure that Sew what for wildlife and little Penguin can help people to understand birds, care for them, and fight to save their natural worlds.

The exhibition is timed to coincide with spring, which is baby magpie season and a time when many birds suffer leg and spinal injuries when they first fledge, and when people often find wounded chicks.

You can meet Cameron and Sam Bloom at the McCormick Centre when the exhibition is launched by Ian Tolley OAM, at 2:00pm on Sunday 16 October.

They will also, in conversation with Jan Owens, deliver a literary talk on Monday 17 October at 7:00pm. Bookings are essential, so if you're interested, please RSVP, by Wednesday 12 October, to Alex at or 0456 531 622.

If you can't make it to the opening, you can still see the exhibition until 30 November. It's open 10:00am – 4:00pm, Monday – Saturday (and, during the Renmark Rose Festival, on Sundays).

McCormick Centre
Taking it all in at the McCormick Centre (Photo: Renmark Paringa Council)

The McCormick Centre for the Environment is operated by the Australian Landscape Trust.

McCormick Centre
Activities for everyone at the McCormick Centre (Photo: Renmark Paringa Council)

It was built as a regional hub for environmental education and eco-tourism and features a 115-seat lecture theatre, research and teaching laboratories, catering facilities, a reception area for functions, rooms for meetings and offices. It is managed by ALT under an agreement with the Renmark Paringa Council.

McCormick Centre
Activities at the McCormick Centre (Photo: Renmark Paringa Council)

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Why? Help injured birds this spring
When: 16 October - 30 November 2016
Phone: 8586 4777
Where: McCormick Centre for the Environment
Cost: free entry
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