The Halbury Quilters

I have long been of the opinion that the heart of our country beats from our small country towns.

It was men and boys from these towns who answered the call for King and Country when war broke out. It was and remains the men and women from these towns who work an unforgiving land to provide us with food and resources that sustain us every day.  Determination and resilience courses through their veins despite the seemingly never-ending challenges thrown at them.  If you need something done, more often than not, when the call goes out it is people from these places who answer that call.  People in small towns have a ‘can do’ attitude – they have to – it sustains them and their communities.

Poppy Central!

On June 13th this year I attended the South Australian Department of Veterans Affairs Deputy Commissioner Forum.  I informed the group of some of the intended events for the Centenary of the Armistice.   At this time events and ideas were very much still in the planning stages. One of these events being a poppy drop from the back of a plane.

Two weeks later, on June 28th, I received a phone call from Cleo Field from the Partners of Veterans Association (PVA), who was also at the forum, telling me that she had 1100 biodegradable poppies for the Poppy Drop! I was quite speechless.  I had given a little thought as to how we might go about getting the poppies made, but it had not progressed past a thought.  I could not believe that 1100 handmade poppies had been made in such a short amount of time.

Cleo advised me that she had put the call out to the PVA and a group of ladies had answered.  Cleo asked how many more poppies we needed.  Awkwardly, not wanting to stretch the friendship, I said 4435, a total of 5535, one for each of the South Australians who made the ultimate sacrifice during the First World War.  To my surprise, there was not even a sharp intake of breath from Cleo.  She simply said, ‘Raelene never backs away from a challenge’.  I was soon to learn who ‘Raelene’ was.

5535 Poppies packed and ready to go

On July 18th Cleo emailed me again with news that all 5535 hand cut poppies had been made.

A little over a month after I had floated an idea I had a finished product waiting to be collected.

On Thursday 26th of July I headed to Halbury, a small community half way between Balaklava and Auburn, to meet the amazing ladies who make up the ‘Halbury Quilters’.

Raelene Hill from Halbury is a member of the PVA.  An exceptional woman with many skills that she uses for PVA to assist with fundraising.  She dedicates her time to her husband, her family, her aging parents and her community.  I was told that she is a best friend to all who know her and the best neighbour anyone could wish for.

Every second Thursday Raelene opens her extraordinarily impressive ‘shed’ to a group of friends and they get together to have a cuppa, a chat and to make some of the most amazing quilts I have ever seen.

The other ladies in the group are Margaret, Kathy, Sarah, Lyn and June.  Although Raelene is the only member of PVA, as it is with small towns, the other ladies all have some connection to the military either directly or indirectly and they come together to support each other.

Raelene, on receiving Cleo’s email, sourced the biodegradable fabric and told her friends what the challenge ahead was. They all joined in and took up the challenge.

The result, 5535 palm sized biodegradable poppies for South Australia’s Armistice Day commemoration.

I spent the morning talking to them about their experiences and exposure to the military, and I was privileged to be shown a quilt that was made by Raelene for her husband for his 70th birthday, with the Rising Sun taking pride of place and photos of his career spread across the quilt.  It was simply breathtaking.

I said my goodbyes to the ladies and Raelene walked me (and 5535 poppies) out to my car.  Some of Raelene’s final words to me, with a big grin on her face, were “Please don’t ask us for anymore”.

The final product

I told her that they had gone above and beyond and that I promised that I would not ask for another single poppy from them!

Unfortunately, Raelene will not be able attend the service in Adelaide on 11 November this year, and I am unsure about the other ladies.  However, thousands of people that they do not know, and who do not know them, are going to be able to enjoy the result of their hard work that comes from their unwavering community spirit.

A labour of love and a duty done, in a way only a small community can.

Thank you, ladies.