A new mural at a decommissioned Derby Street bus shelter is part of the Warrnambool City Council’s Let’s Get Neighbourly program, and has the goal of bringing neighbours closer together.
It’s still not quite finished, but it already seems to be working its magic.
Deakin University PhD student Thiru Somasundara moved to Warrnambool two years ago.
COVID-19 has had an impact on the social connections of most people, but for the Sri Lankan student who didn’t know anybody in the city, it was especially tough.
“I was so lonely and upset and I couldn’t connect with anybody in the neighbourhood,” he said.
“This is my second year in Australia and Warrnambool and I didn’t have many friends.”
He heard about the Let’s Get Neighbourly program hosted by Council, and decided to get involved. Through workshops and mentoring, the program guided participants through the process of introducing themselves to their neighbours, and potentially forming new neighbourhood groups.
“I couldn’t build my relationships gradually and properly with people at university or at other places because of all the lockdowns.” he said.
“At the Let’s Get Neighbourly program, I got advice on how to approach neighbours. This is entirely a new world for me.
“I think I learnt a lot, and it helped me to have positive interactions with my neighbours.
“I know my neighbours now, and I feel like I’ve been accepted.”
The project culminated in a public mural, with Thiru the lucky participant selected to have the artwork created in his neighbourhood.
Artist Jimmi Buscombe said that the design was shaped by local residents.
“Everyone was really enthusiastic. It was just a fun, cohesive thing and we were able to tie a lot of their ideas together,” he said.
The plants on the mural are inspired by the nearby Warrnambool Community Garden. The cow is a reference to Derby Street’s past as a farm, as well as a nod to Thiru’s PhD research on reducing methane emissions in cattle by feeding them seaweed. The raven is a common sight in the area, and if you look closely, you can see a strawberry in its mouth… perhaps from the community garden.
Jimmi said that the neighbourhood had made him feel welcome during his time creating the mural, both with conversations in person, and messages he had received.
“There’s neighbours who have dropped off lemons and oranges for me,” he said.
“I had one message from a lady who does work at the community gardens. She’s said she’s walked past here hundreds of times and for the first time ever, she stopped, sat in the bus stop and made a phone call.”
Warrnambool CEO Peter Schneider said that there was often more to public art than meets the eye.
“While making an area more beautiful with public art is reason enough to do it, there are so many other benefits,” he said.
“This project is a way to help people re-engage with each other, rekindling those neighbourhood connections or starting new ones.
“In the good times, and in the not so good times, knowing your neighbours and being part of a neighbourhood can be so important.
“As a city, we’re proud of our street art and I’m looking forward to more great creations in the future.”