A hundred years ago six Diggers returned from the poppy fields of France, sat on Freshwater beach and discussed creating a place where they could be together and support each other. This was the genesis of the Harbord Diggers and the original Diggers are now honoured by the six poppies in a Memorial artwork by artist Jade Oakley. This impressive work was recently manufactured in partnership with Oakley and installed at the entry of the newly renovated Harbord Diggers venue. The glowing perforated brass background represents the sea and the sand of Freshwater beach. The flickering light of the concealed flames within each poppy are a reminder of the eternal flame, and the poppies appear to ‘grow’ from a reflective pool lined with dark granite below. The words ‘Courage, Sacrifice, Endurance and Mateship’ are carved in 20mm thick black stone and pinned to the wet edge of the pool.
Each poppy has been hand beaten from 3mm mild steel by artistic blacksmiths Lok Sutherland and Chris Sulis. The marks of the hammer are still evident on the metal surface. These sculptures have been borne from strength and force, as the blacksmiths physically struggled with the material. This sense of physicality lends potency to the artwork, which commemorates the bravery, ingenuity and strength of our soldiers.
In true form of Oakley’s art practice, the poppies are kinetic. Each poppy is balanced on a hidden hook, so that when the Southerly blows in off the sea the sculptures bob and dance like poppies in a field. This movement lends a lightness to the work and creates a surprising interaction between this, an essentially indoor artwork, and the exposed headland on which the Diggers is located.
Feng Shui dictates that this site represents fire. This has been achieved through the warmth of the polished Axolotl copper surface and the flame lights flickering within the poppies as well as the glowing perforated background, reflected in the water. The wet edge of the pool creates a very calm experience through sound and a sense of flow and movement. This feels like a meditative space. An appropriate place to pause and remember our Diggers.
When the artwork was commissioned to Jade Oakley, Dale Hunt, the then Mounties Group General Manager of Northern Sites, asked Jade if anyone in her family had fought in a war. “What kind of memorial would you make for them?”
"Dale was right to ask this question, because what he was demanding from me as an Artist was not a design solution, but an intensely personal response to the creation of a War Memorial at the new Harbord Diggers. The work needed to be more than symbolic; it needed to tell the particular narrative of Harbord’s original returned Diggers.
And was this the artwork that I would have made for my own Grandfather, who was a surgeon on the Kokoda Track in WW2? My Grandfather performed an emergency surgery on a young soldier who had had part of his scull shot off. He beat a shilling to create a temporary plate to seal the man’s scull. So for Grandpa’s memorial I would have hand beaten a shilling into a large flat disc. Maybe it was this thought that underpinned the design of the Memorial after all.” Jade Oakley
AAP project managed the Memorial artwork and worked closely with Oakley throughout development, design, fabrication and installation, from digitising Oakley’s drawings of the sea’s perforations, through to exploring the materiality of the work.