Tribute to firefighters a work of art

A Port Macquarie student has inspired a new figure in the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail.

Image: Tacking Point Public School student Jessica Miles with Frankie the Firefighter koala statue. Photo: Lindsay Moller

In the midst of the January bushfires that came within a kilometre of her home, 12-year-old Jessica Miles found herself reflecting on the bravery of firefighters protecting lives and property in the Port Macquarie area.

Jessica said the fires had been frightening. “There were choppers flying around our house and smoke everywhere,” she said.

Over a family dinner, the Tacking Point Public School student raised the idea of building a sculpture to honour the men and women on the bushfire frontline and was greeted with support.

With an artwork from the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail on their doorstep, Jessica’s mother, Michelle, suggested she contact the organisers of the trail with her idea.

In a message to Hello Koalas via a Facebook post, Jessica wrote: “I've recently thought of an idea as Australia has been facing terror lately … The firefighters have risked their life and their time to protect us.

“In recognition of their bravery, I wanted to share an idea I had about making a koala in honour of the firefighters and to spread hope to Australia.”

Hello Koalas director Margret Meagher said while she had thought about creating a sculpture dedicated to Australia’s selfless and heroic firefighters in the past, Jessica’s message made her more determined than ever to make it happen.

Having been involved in the Rural Fire Service, Ms Meagher was also personally touched by summer’s bushfires, having to evacuate her Ellenborough property in what she described as “the most horrible and frightening experience of my life”.

“So I really wanted to celebrate the local men and women who fought valiantly to protect our community and to recognise all firefighters in Australia, including members of the Fire and Rescue brigades, Rural Fire Services, SES, NSW National Parks, Forestry NSW,” Ms Meagher said.

Jessica, who is passionate about the environment and animals, said she had been thrilled to receive such a positive response to her idea, including her suggestion “it could have the RFS badge painted on the koala or it could have a firemen’s jacket”.

The new sculpture, Frankie Firefighter created by artist Kim Staples, was unveiled this week and features both Jessica’s ideas.

“I love koalas. They are native Australian animals and it’s important for us to protect them,” Jessica said.

She said she had learned a lot about the environment at school, and had been involved in the Lions Club Koala Smart schools project, which encouraged students to consider what they would do to help save the koala.

Jessica said her aim when she grew up was “to be an environmental activist, someone who protects the environment or maybe a marine biologist”.

Another Hello Koala, yet to be launched, has been created as a result of the Koala Smart schools project, with North Haven Public School having earned the winning design and the right to have a full-scale koala painted by a professional artist.

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