25 August 2023

Daisy The Decorated Dairy Cow udderly in love with hometown Kiama

| Kellie O'Brien
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Daisy The Decorated Dairy Cow

Daisy The Decorated Dairy Cow is an icon of Kiama. Photo: Kellie O’Brien.

Kiama icon Daisy The Decorated Dairy Cow stands guarding the Old Fire Station Community Arts Centre that houses exhibitions from artists within the region.

Each year for three decades, her coat of many colours changes as the public voluntarily updates her look.

Region Illawarra caught up with Daisy to talk about her role as an important figure in Kiama, her brush with fame and some emoootional moments.

When and how were you, Daisy The Decorated Dairy Cow, ”born”?

Oh gosh, that feels a bit personal for an old girl like me. Unlike my flesh-and-blood sisters, I have been around much longer than the average cow.

I was originally ”born” in 1991. But I went in for a bit of a nip and tuck in 2018 and now, in addition to my papier mache and sisal foundation, I have a coat of fibreglass and kevlar. This has smoothed out my lumps and bumps after decades of coats of paint. I must admit, my dermabrasion session was more like an archeological dig, with layers upon layers of paint revealed in a kaleidoscope of colour.

Speaking of kaleidoscopes, did you know Phyl Lobl wrote a song about me? Along with writing my biography, Phyl is a talented folk singer-songwriter who gave me the gift of this lovely song.

Local farmer Tom Brown was the owner of the Illawarra Shorthorn, Meadowhaven Daisy the 47th Cow, from which my sculptor, Ernesto Murgo, took my measurements and likeness. Ernesto and Tom have now passed away, I have outlived them both.

I recently got to meet Tom’s son and grandson at a council festival – such a delight!

READ ALSO Meet the group helping the Illawarra unearth its family history

You’ve had coats of many colours. Why do you feature new coats at different times throughout the year?

Members of the public can arrange to paint my coat whenever they like. A few regulars, though, are the Kiama Jazz and Blues Festival and NAIDOC Week. Throughout the years, I have been painted by local Aboriginal artists, the now Mayor Cr Neil Reilly and young people and youth workers from SENTRAL Youth Centre, along with lots of wonderful people from our Kiama community.

I am what is known as a temporary public artwork – my paintings only exist for a short time. Thankfully, they are also captured in the many photos taken of me.

Have you had a coat you’ve loved over the years or an artist that made you go ”holy cow”?

I love it when our First Nations artists come in to paint me. Their work does make me feel udderly special and I am honoured to help our First Nations voice be seen and heard. Their work is often so detailed and I love the stories they tell of the Dreaming, the land and Aboriginal culture.

What’s your role at the Old Fire Station and how high are the steaks with this role?

Moooooooooo, I hope it will never be steaks for me!

I see my role at the Old Fire Station as a very important one. That is, representing accessible art and creativity. Creativity is an important part of health and wellbeing for you hoooomans. It creates connection and communication and builds a sense of belonging and community.

On my 21st birthday, I had a celebratory exhibition of the many photos taken of my artwork over the years. During this exhibition, an older gentleman walked around gazing at my photos with tears in his eyes. His wife had died a couple of weeks beforehand. He had come to the exhibition as, despite his wife’s dementia and loss of so much memory of the people and life around her, she had never forgotten who I was – Daisy, Kiama’s community cow. He came to see my photographs to grieve and to remember and honour his wife.

That to me is my role.

Old Fire Station Kiama and fibreglass cow icon

The Old Fire Station at Kiama was turned into an exhibition space, which Daisy guards most days of the week. Photo: Kellie O’Brien.

What’s the history of the Old Fire Station and how did it come to be an exhibition space?

The Old Fire Station is in fact the old fire station of Kiama. Unfortunately, we don’t have a fire pole but it is a heritage-listed building.

At some stage, Kiama Council took ownership of the building and turned it into the beautiful exhibition space it is today, enriching not only the lives of residents and tourists but providing a very important stepping stone for new and emerging artists to take their first steps into the world. It is a scary and vulnerable thing to share your art with the world, and the Old Fire Station is and has been a vital, courageous step for many of our local artists.

You seem to milk your role as an ambassador for the wonderful town of Kiama and feature in many photos. What’s the best part of being famous and have you been in any photos with famous visitors to the town?

I was once in the vicinity of a photo at the Old Fire Station with that handsome rake, Richard Roxburgh. I must admit to getting a little flushed with grass fever when he came to town. Unlike his TV character, he was very thoughtful and kind.

There are all sorts of people, both famous and otherwise, who travel through Kiama and I often get to glimpse them as they pass. It is not often I get photos with the famous ones, but that doesn’t matter to me. What I love most is when people who have memories of me when they were children bring their children and grandchildren to come and visit me.

I must admit, though, I do love my own delicious bit of fame. I love to dress up and flash my colours across the world!

Do you know of any other bovines like you around the world?

I believe that Google will show you lots of bovines like me from around the world. But when my biographer Phyl Lobl did her research, she couldn’t find any that were older than me. I might not be as spritely or playful as those couple of silly heifers down towards Nowra (have you seen their latest Barbie tribute?), but I am undeniably the oldest and most stately of them all.

You are very well known on Facebook. What are your tips for using social media and how do the hooves work with the mobile phone?

My big tip for social media is to speak with your authentic voice, and with love and kindness.

As any child with a seed of creativity and imagination knows, inanimate beings come alive at night, and that is when I get to work. My previous stablemate and carer procured a giant keyboard that accommodates my hooves quite nicely. It takes a bit of time and I was very clunky for a while, but now I dance across the keyboard with ease.

READ ALSO New regional arts organisation empowering artists to boldly follow their creative mojo

If you could tell visitors how to spend the perfect day in Kiama, what would it be?

Of course, there is the rich, natural beauty of Kiama, the beaches, the blowholes (yes, we have two) and the green rolling hills. But dig a little deeper and you will find a treasure trove of arts and creativity. From art galleries to music and performance festivals to open-mic nights to drawing and jewellery making, to pottery and clay working classes to drama and dance. We have it all in abundance! What better way to spend a day or two in these beautiful surroundings than diving into our rich creative spirit?

Terralong St has more ice-cream shops per capita than any other street in Australia. What’s your favourite ice-cream flavour?

Pasturachio, of course!

Lastly, what’s going on with the price of milk?

I’m not the one to ask that anymore, as I have long ago passed into the meadowpause.

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