counting koalas

Koala

Five minutes with the founder of the Hello Koalas Festival

Here at Koala, we make no secret that we love these iconic Australian animals, so it’s with great pride, we’re partnering with the Hello Koalas Festival, which is set to take place at the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital from June 1 to 11, 2017. The ten-day festival is a celebration of the unique – and unfortunately increasingly threatened – marsupial. We were lucky enough to sit down with Hello Koalas founder, Margaret Meagher, and discuss how the festival came to celebrate the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail and how we identify with these unique animals.

What is the Hello Koalas festival?

The Hello Koalas Festival is the world’s first festival celebrating Australia’s iconic species, the koala – which has lived on the planet, according to fossil records, for more than 25 million years. Now that’s something to celebrate!

How did you think of the concept and when did it begin?

I love sculptures and I love koalas, so it seemed like a natural idea to bring the two together when I moved to Port Macquarie on the Mid North Coast of NSW. The region has the largest population of koalas on the east coast of Australia, and is home to the world’s firstkoala hospital, (now 41 years old), and an icon in its own right.

We spent a couple of years planning our Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail, with expert advice from the Koala Hospital. We digitally created a sculpture design which is an authentic representation of a Port Macquarie koala. We then set about creating 50+ one metre high fibreglass koalas, and commissioned Australian artists to create designs and paint their koala, with many of them featuring an environmental theme. We then we dotted the sculptures across the landscape – relaxing in parks, sitting beside cafes, looking out over the ocean, mingling with shoppers, playing on a golf course, watching the river flow and meditating in littoral rainforests.

The Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail was launched in September 2014 and the rest, as they say, is history. Now the Trail is regarded as the most popular tourist attraction in the area and loved by the local community.

Why is Hello Koalas necessary?

The Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail was created as a high-quality public art exhibition, with several objectives in mind – cultural tourism, community enjoyment and promotion of koala conservation. The arts are a powerful medium to convey environmental messages, and the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail and the Hello Koalas Festival are both effectively using the arts to make people aware that koalas are endangered largely because of the way people live.

Urban development reduces a critical food source for koalas through land clearing and introduces other threats such as dog attacks, road accidents and disease. Climate change also has an impact on koala health and habitat. We are one of many organisations, like the Koala Hospital and Koala, to put koalas high on their list of priorities.

Why do you love koalas?

I have always loved koalas. Like many children, I grew up with a very cuddly koala toy, who was my friend. I think the Hello Koalas sculptures are filling that friendship role for many people of all ages now.

I am proud of the fact that the koala is unique to Australia and so popular worldwide. When I met the people at the Koala Hospital and started on my idea of the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail, my affection for koalas moved into top gear.

Koalas are very engaging. They look at you like a person… when they are awake! They sleep 18 to 20 hours a day. But, awake or asleep, people feel a real connection to these endearing marsupials and want to give them a hug.

What do you hope for the future of the festival?

We would like people to have fun engaging in koala related festival activities and exploring the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail – at the same time, becoming aware that koalas are endangered and rely on people being responsible environmental citizens for their survival. If people and koalas are to live in harmony, it’s up to people to accommodate koalas and keep them safe within their natural habitat, abundant with food.

As the first koala festival in the world, we also want to grow our festival into an event of national and international significance to spread our koala conservation message far and wide.

How is Koala helping out Hello Koalas?

Koala as an online business has a ‘blue sky’ approach to life and we at Hello Koala’s really appreciate big thinking. Koala is a valued sponsor of the Koala Hospital, so it was a natural connection to partner with Koala. The company places emphasis on producing a quality product and in providing exemplary customer service.

We admire their brand values and their commitment to the environment. Koala is an ideal partner to help us grow the Hello Koalas Festival into a global event.

How can people who can’t attend the festival still support the initiative?

This is our first festival and we would love people to support this annual celebration of koalas each June through social media by spreading the word about the Hello Koalas Festival and the importance of koala conservation.

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