“I’ve been carting concrete down the hill for several hours putting in the footings for our sign for the sculpture of Bobby and Buttons,” Watts says from her home in Middleton, adding that the weather today “is vile” but it didn’t stop a handful of onlookers.
“The contractor’s quote was too much for our little community project and a chap and I agreed to do it.”
Despite the hard slog, Watts doesn’t appear to regret the decision as she sees the artwork created on the back of dozens of Middletown Town and Foreshore Association sausage sizzles and fundraisers come to life just in time for the whale watching season.
The artwork is a tribute to Southern Right Whale favourites Buttons –who locals have watched return to the waters of Encounter Bay to give birth in 2013, 2017 – and her newest calf Bobby who appeared in the sanctuary with her last year.
It is also one that saw the local community raise $70,000 to make happen. The signage now being installed alongside tells the story of the southern right whales that are now making their annual migration to the warmer waters of Encounter Bay to shelter, mate, birth and grow strong.
First nations local Cedric Varcoe welcomed the fallen redgum tree when it arrived from Naracoorte to Middleton with a traditional smoking ceremony, Watts says.
Its new home is at a prime spot along the Encounter bikeway that links the coastal city of Victor Harbor and the river port town of Goolwa.
Watts said the community worked hard to make the sculpture happen, her own persistence in making a project happen honed when she created The Fairies back in the early 2000s.
Many meetings occurred before the children’s television show based on two fairies Harmony and Rainbow aired on Channel 7 for three seasons. ARIA music awards nominations followed and it was picked up by Nickelodeon in the United Kingdom.
After living in Adelaide for most of her life, Watts says moving to Middleton nine years ago with her husband and now grown children meant it is the first time she has been in a place where “if I yelled and said I need help that people would come running”.
Among them her husband, Mark, who she met when he travelled from England to Adelaide for Formula One racing 33 years ago.
Local MP David Basham is among locals who have been watching sculptor Apponyi craft the wood into whales onsite over the past two months, purchasing a bowl made from the red gum offcuts, and noting the site overlooking Basham Beach is particularly special to his family.
The beach was named after his great, great, grandfather Charles Basham who was a local community leader. The family moved to the area in 1856 and his father’s cousin Annie Basham still lives in the family home Pleasant Banks.
“It’s an amazing spot, the whales come in so close to the shore there,” Basham says. “It’s a privilege over the years to see them, particularly in the morning and early evenings when they seem to be most active.”
The sculptures also mark the beginning of the month-long Winter Whale Fest supported by the SA Tourism Commission and City of Victor Harbor that is now underway to mark the watching season.
For Watts, who works full time writing books ranging from the history of Penfolds to a book about footballer Ian Day, Middleton is a beautiful community that now has a beautiful sculpture that its artist created at the prime whale watching site on the peninsula.
“The whole community has got together to create these whales … I guess they are iconic in Middleton, we are known for surfing and whales.
“The whales mean a lot to us, we are wanting to bring more art to Middleton, art brings joy and everyone needs joy in their lives.”
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