14 September 2023

Vivid marine life mural adds colour to pool in time for summer swimming season

| Jen White
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Artist Karla Hayes, Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery, NSW Port’s Jon Stewart and UOW’s Andy Davis in front of the mural.

Artist Karla Hayes, Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery, NSW Ports’ Jon Stewart and UOW’s Andy Davis at the unveiling of the mural. Photo: Jen White.

The spectacular Great Southern Reef off the Illawarra coast has been captured in a 45-m mural at Unanderra’s Western Suburbs Pool.

The mural, by Wollongong artist Karla Hayes, was a collaborative effort between NSW Ports, the University of Wollongong (UOW) and Wollongong City Council, who were all represented at the artwork’s official unveiling this week (14 September).

Allison Broad from UOW’s Centre for Sustainable Ecosystem Solutions received $20,000 funding under the NSW Ports Community Grant Program, and worked with Karla on the content for the mural.

Karla said finding an appropriate wall for the mural took some time.

“Allison came to me and said, I have this grant, help me use it because I really want to visualise my research and raise awareness of the reef,” Karla said.

“Finding a wall that was appropriate took a little while, but council was super helpful with that, and we’ve found a real banger.”

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Karla grew up in the ocean surfing and diving and has always been interested in marine biology and life under the water.

“I’m glad that it all panned out, because sometimes it can be a bit nerve-racking when you start a project, you have all these hopes and dreams [other people’s] and you’re going to make the hopes and dreams a reality and that’s the actual hard bit.

“I’m really passionate about creating art in public spaces that everyone can engage with and enjoy building appreciation of flora and fauna that supports conservation efforts.

“I’m grateful for the opportunity to create this artwork that will hopefully spark curiosity about our reefs in the local community.”

Marine biologist and University of Wollongong Emeritus Professor Andy Davis said he was thrilled to see the final mural and hoped it would help highlight the importance of the local reef environment.

“Seabed environments provide a critical ecological foundation for the growth of seagrasses, kelp, sponges and corals, which in turn support other marine life,” he said.

The mural at Western Suburbs Pool.

The mural depicting the Great Southern Reef at the Unanderra pool. Photo: NSW Ports.

“I thank NSW Ports for its grant that’s helped bring this habitat to life and inform our community in a fun and creative way.”

NSW Ports General Manager, Strategy and Corporate Affairs Jon Stewart said the business was proud to support the major public art project to promote the university’s important environmental research, while giving the community a greater insight into their local reef.

“NSW Ports is an active member of the communities in which we operate, with Port Kembla playing an essential role in delivering jobs, trade, sponsorships and support to the Illawarra and beyond,” he said.

“This project demonstrates the positive things we can achieve when we work together to support strong, sustainable neighbourhoods, with the university, Karla and her team of artists and Wollongong City Council collaborating to help deliver this fantastic seascape for locals to enjoy.

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“We hope it inspires people across the Illawarra to learn more about the Great Southern Reef and the broader marine ecosystem in their own backyard.”

The Great Southern Reef consists of an interconnected underwater system fringing more than 8000 km of Australia’s southern coast and is defined by an iconic forest of golden kelp.

The mural features octopus, cuttlefish, king fish, sponges and sea fans and is protected by an anti-graffiti surface.

Wollongong City Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery said the new artwork was a welcome addition to the pool, ahead of the start of the summer swimming season on Saturday 23 September.

“The Western Suburbs Pool is well loved by our community so we’re grateful to receive support from NSW Ports to beautify this facility as the previous mural was aged and faded,” he said.

UOW was one of 17 recipients of the NSW Ports 2022 Community Grants program. Environmental projects, multicultural and First Nations initiatives, social services and local sport and school programs were among the recipients. For more information about the program, visit NSW Ports.

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