IT’S 20 metres long, contains 86,750 glass tiles and took 4552 man hours to create, but the chances are you’ve never seen the Grantville Armistice Mural.
“We’ve done this amazing work and still people don’t know it’s there,” says Janice Orchard, artist and designer of the work, which was completed in March after a mammoth effort by a team of volunteers.
For years she had driven past the memorial park thinking the wall was a big blank canvas waiting for a project. When she saw a Department of Veteran Affairs ad about grants for art projects to mark the 100th anniversary of Remembrance Day she saw her chance to create a community armistice mural.
The seven panels depict the Imperial Camel Corps, Gallipoli and the Western Front, The HMAS Sydney in battle, the central Armistice panel with thirty white crosses each representing 20,000 lives lost, the Australian Flying Corps, the Australian Light Horse and Australian Nurses. It’s completed by a 20-metre border of poppies at the base.
“When I first called a meeting, I said we had a deadline and if I could just get eight volunteers it would be viable.” Twenty people volunteered at that meeting and another 12 came in later. And they needed every bit of the six months.
Most of the volunteers had never done anything artistic before, let alone making a mural, so Janice taught them the skills they needed. “They dived in at the deep end. We were working with glass so there was the occasional accident. We had safety glasses and lots of bandaids. They learned new skills, they made new friends.”
She did all the original art work life size, seven panels depicting aspects of Australia’s engagement in what was then known as The Great War. The original paintings were cut into pieces 50cm by 50cm and the volunteers cut and laid the tiles on top of the work.
They worked in shifts in Janice’s workshop at The Gurdies, eight to 10 people in the morning and a different team in the afternoon. For the first five months they worked three days a week, then five days. Some volunteers came for an hour, some for a day and there was a core group – Janice’s A team – who were there from the first day until the last.
Some days the temperature in the shed rose to 40 degrees and others were cold, wet and windy, but the only time work stopped was the day the Grantville bush fires closed the Bass Highway.
It was mid-January before they finished the studio work and it took another six weeks to put the mural in place in Grantville. The first day they laid the poppy border at the bottom of the mural the temperature reached 47 degrees. “We spent a day in the heat on our hands and knees. I went to check the next day and the tiles had all fallen off!”
It was only then she read the label on the adhesive and learned it would not set if the temperature was over 35 degrees. The tiles all had to be relaid.
In early March, when it was finally done and dusted. Janice – along with most of the volunteers – felt quite emotional. “I still am,” she says.
“I think of all the people who served in the First World War. The reason Armistice Day is so important is that it was supposed to be the war that ended all wars. We know now it didn’t happen that way.”
Last month the mural was recognised with a Victorian Regional and Community Achievement Award.
For many of the volunteers, the completion has left a mural-sized gap in their lives. “After we finished, they said to me, ‘What are we doing next?’ I said, ‘Let me get over this one first.’ It was six months of my life, 24-seven. It took its toll.”
Remembrance Day will be commemorated at 11am on Monday, November 11, at the Armistice Mural on the Wall of Honour in the Grantville and District Memorial Park. Members of the public and interested groups are invited to lay wreaths and flowers followed by a morning tea.