The Warm Safe Home Project

By Cobden Men’s Shed and Cobden Artist Group: Cobden Artist group members Valerie Coverdale, Emily Whiteside, Marilyn Kimber, Linda Castaldo, & Jeanette Warner

This year the Warm Safe Home Project has continued to grow. This time with a focus on connecting with men’s Sheds and artists across South West Victoria to create version of this project called “Stories to Understand”. This work is undertaken through my role as Elder Abuse Prevention Worker for Everybody’s Business Elder Abuse Prevention Network.

Unfortunately most of us have seen or heard of a situation that fits the description of elder abuse, even if we didn’t know to call it that. “Stories to Understand’ uses narrative and visual imagery to connect people through the humanity and ordinariness of elder abuse situations. The Warm Safe Home Project “Stories to Understand” exhibition was officially opened at Gateway Plaza on June 25 2021 by Warrnambool Mayor Cr Vicki Jellie AM. These houses will tour through south west Victoria until April 2022.

These houses and the stories that accompany them will also be included in a beautiful new resource that has been put together to educate people about elder abuse, and to enable anyone to participate in the Warm Safe Home project.

Photos by Glenn Watson Photograph. Houses by Lismore Mens Shed & Emma Stenhouse, Crossley Mens Shed & Teresa O’Brien, Cobden Mens Shed & Cobden Artist Group, Portland Mens Shed & Cat Bailey, Penshurst Mens Shed & Mary Stewart & Elizabeth Siecker.

Image credit: Jordan Gould
Artists from left to right: Emily Whiteside, Linda Castaldo, Marilyn Kimber, Emma Stenhouse, and Catherine Bailey
By Emma Stenhouse and Lismore Men’s Shed
By Penshurst Men’s Shed and artists Mary Stewart & Elizabeth Siecker
Portland Men’s Shed and Cat Bailey, with artist assistance from Miranda Peile

Pour only when your own cup is full… South West International Women’s Day Art Prize

Earlier this year I submitted an artwork to the Women’s Health & Wellbeing Barwon South West Inc. International Women’s Day Art Prize This year’s theme was to “Be”. It asked artists to consider what it was or meant to “Be” from ones perspective or position in in the world as a woman. I last submitted work to the art prize in 2015 for their inaugural exhibition themed “Women & Place”. After completing my PhD I felt it important that I develop a work for the show. I considered my responses to the theme in the months leading up to the closing date. The final concept solidified in a moment of honesty and surrender on the eve of the closing date. It was one of the most important works I’ve ever found the courage to make.

“Pour only when your own cup is full” was an act of drawing a line in the sand, it was the artistic equivalent of shaving my head. It was as much a performance as it was as installation or sculpture in absenteeism. Not making an artwork was like choosing to breathe for the first time in years, to let go, to not force, to not exert myself on the tread(trend)mill running from the fear of disappearing, slaying temporal sacrifices to the creative gods of “not giving up”.

I described the rationale of this submission to another artist on the night of the award opening. She laughed, for a few reasons, and then blurted out “it sounds like giving up”. And perhaps it did, or does. And in the wake of this artwork I was scared of that. There has been a forward urging in my body since before I arrived at this sandstone bay 20 years ago, a compelling surging drive entangled in my creativity and my politics, in my imagination and my will to live. It has brought me amazing experiences but at many stages the requirements of tending to it has brought me to the darkest nights of my soul. It has foreclosed other opportunities, it has taken time and attention from my family. Through the many stages of conclusion to my PhD (my amendments were approved on April 3 this year!!) I have found myself reassessing what it means “to make it”, what does success mean, what does it look like? For the whole of my embodied world, not just its artistic dimension.

Accordingly there has been something liberating about the installation. When asked what kind of art I make I always explain that I work across mediums in order to find the most appropriate materials and methodology for the given situation- be that a PVC pipe river built inside my house or a high altitude camera launched into the stratosphere. This artwork exemplifies that ethos. There is a lovely confidence that has come through this piece- some of this is in that despite its lack of form and whiffs of academic wankerey it made it through the selection process- and some of this comes from that sense of catching my breath: I have moved into a new space as an artistic, I have lost something frantic and fearful from my motivation, I have more resolve to work at a pace that is sustainable.

For now success is balance.

Kang O Meerteek

Kang O Meerteek was an incredible project for the community of Narrawong. It was funded through a Small Town Transformation Grant through Regional Arts Victoria. The place based project stirred the earth and history for this coastal community just east of Portland. Driven through brilliant creative minds the project was a symbiosis of landscape, indigenous culture, settler history, ecology and art. You can track the history of the project through Kang O Meerteek’s Facebook page:

The township of Narrawong celebrated the conclusion of their extensive art-led community development project through the unveiling of two amazing public artworks. One is the stainless steel sculpture of a flame comprised of 6 meter high leaf-like forms. It was created by local indigenous artist Wal Saunders titled Mayapa Weeyn (Make Fire). The second sculpture sits further below and closer to chose at the mouth of the Surry River. Made of blue stone it is a remarkable sundial with the four directions marked by exquisite stone carvings of piece of whale created by Glenn Romans & Mark Trinham. It is called Koontabpul Thirng Wuul (Whale Sun Shadow).

Sometime in the haze of the third stage of birthing my PhD two of the project leads, Jodie Honan and Deborah Saunders reached out and invited me to curate a series of ephemeral textile works along the trail to each sculpture – the grand unveiling of the two amazing public artworks that map and activate the rich and complex history of the area. You can see footage of the installation via the link below.

I met with Deb & Jodie on a special day last July. We walked the sites together and they explained their project, process, and artworks to me. All of a sudden I felt really honoured to have been asked to participate by these beautiful wise women. The opening weekend was ultimately scheduled for November. Following a conscious decision to better link my creative life with my family life my two daughters joined me for the installation.

Three sets of eco-died curtains were positioned along the Saw Mill Track at Mt Clay. The ghostly textiles were skilfully made by Deb Saunders- I think that they really activated the trail. The other works included collected sticks that had coloured wool wound around the ends. Embedded in the bush forest they looked like totem flowers.

This was a great gig. Utterly loved my role on its fringe. Make the trip to Narrawong and complete the trail between the two sculptures – drop in to the Bay of Whales Gallery while you are there and call in on Deb at SWAMP’s Tyrendarra Art Space on your way.

Shifting gears

Completing my PhD research put me in a place of needing to effect the world from a different angle. Working in alignment with community development and health promotion through my years of community arts facilitation drew me to this field. My research had focused on how it is we create the spaces around us and conversely how those same spaces create us- I recognised an easy confluence between the space making practices of installation art and of community development.

It is also a field that lends itself to creative thinking, both in terms of project delivery and adaptation as well as utilising the arts as a vehicle for engagement. It’s been a really good space to channel my energy.

My first official role was as Age-friendly Communities Project Officer at a neighbouring local government. The purpose of the role is to foster opportunities that make it easier for older people to stay connected to the community and to live healthy, independent lives for as long as possible. There are layers and layers to this work, it has led me to draw on varied research from the tangible health benefits of social connection (go look up the Coalition to End Loneliness as well as the Social Cure ) to the wrath of ageism to barriers to transport in regional Australia …. and more and more…

One of the rather interesting realms that this work has taken me into is the area of death, and our tendencies to avoid the topic which causes us (ironically) a whole heap of unnecessary grief right when we can least afford it. In October and November last year I worked on a project that brought the “end-of-life roadshow -Unspoken: what will become of me” to Corangamite Shire. This involved chaperoning Born in a Taxi’s “Fallen Angels” street theatre troop through the Cobden Spring Festival & the Camperdown Rock the Clock. It was a blast. Attaching angle wings to two of my off-spring and employing their services in the gig added to the delight.

I have continued to work in the age-friendly communities space and have also recently begun work as an elder abuse prevention worker. This later role has required me to dig into the imagination bank and produce an arts-led community awareness campaign. The “Warm Safe Home Project” is its title. The core of this project emerged from my PhD research and the years spent examining the home/house and the intersection it facilitates between body and world. In many cultures the home is a symbol of security and safety, in family violence situations- such as elder abuse- however, the home can become a space of fear. In addition, it is access to housing itself that can exacerbate the risks associated with elder abuse. This project was launched at World Elder Abuse Awareness Day events Warrnambool and Timboon this June- the Commissioner for Senior Victorians Gerard Mansour even made the very first campaign house. I am proud of this little project and really excited to see where it goes over the next twelve months.

A significant body of work…

Over the course of my research I made a number of series of artworks that explored the intersection between the body and the environment. The home- the built house and the domestic interior- became a significant framework through which to map this intersection. Presenting these works at the ANU Sculpture Workshop as part of my PhD examination provided me with the opportunity to install these works together. Functioning as another test site, this proxy domestic space honoured the virtual one that illuminated my imagination throughout the research process. I plan to revisit these works and this format- there is unfinished business here that deserves fuller realisation in its own exhibition process.

Bringing the video work “Gaia is Symbiosis as seen from Space” into this installation was again critical to activating the artworks. A sense of this is captured in the video found via this link:

Oikos- Floor Talk and Installation Test


Floor Talk.jpg

Sometimes you get the sense of synchronicity pulling things together. There were many times during my PhD research project in which that sense was absent, thankfully during the final months a shift occurred and it felt like the universe was back on my side. In late November last year I caught the train to Melbourne for some R&R after completing drafts of what I thought were the second and third chapters of my exegesis. I sat, quite fortuitously, next to another artist Kim Sargent-Wishart. I had heard of Kim but we’d not yet met. This was a very happy accident. During our conversation she suggested that I talk to Ren Gregoric at the Warrnambool Art Gallery about testing some of my installation ideas publically. At this stage in my creative practice-led research I knew what my final artwork needed to be however I was not sure what its final form would look like in the physical world. I needed to play with the work out in the open.

I met with Ren in early January. It was clear that he was pragmatic. Ren’s approach was very much based around “how can we make that happen”, he is an enabler in the very best sense of the word and exactly the person that I needed at that point in my project. By the end of that week Ren had a date proposed for me to come in and test out some ideas in conversation with him, and a second date booked for me to publically test these along with presenting a floor talk about my research.

Over the course of my research I had worked toward refining the multiple tangents of my studio based research into a singular, cohesive installation that communicated the complexity of the body’s connection with the environment. For much of my research the pathway for doing this was illusive, however I trusted that the creative process would yield the beautiful and transformative aesthetic culmination that it always does.

Water had become an important metaphor for capturing the many different forms and layers of the body’s connection with its environment. In particular, the quote from Marily Cintra (CraftACT, 2012) “do we realise that when turn on a tap in Canberra we are diverting the river into our homes” became a crucial catalyst. Through making artworks and observing my domestic space and its relationships to the surrounding landscape and urban infrastructure it became clear that we continually draw resources into our homes to furnish the comfort and stability of their interiors. These processes of domestic space making enable us to manage the continual entropy which all things are subject to: through cleaning, mending, restocking, and tidying we delay the appearance of decay and generate order; this constant movement generates the comforting sense of the home’s internal stability.

Over the course of my research I came to represent this domestic space making in a series of small boxes covered with textures and images relative to the experience of the home’s interior.



There is a long story attached to the process of developing these boxes into the final installation… the short story is that in conjunction with reading Yuriko Saito’s everyday aesthetics one evening the image of a river comprised of these small boxes emerged in my mind. Concurrent with the modernisation of Australian homes and family life through new hygiene and cleaning practices, among other things, was the development of the landscape – in particular the Australian dam building project which saw rivers and wetlands dammed to provide the clean water that could service the needs of our growing urbanisation. A river comprised of my little handmade domestic worlds would enable me to describe that inversion of the natural environment required to make the interior worlds of our homes.

I had attempted a few approaches for creating this river which included suspending these boxes from fishing line as well as projecting video through them…

I couldn’t quite get a buzz off  these approaches though. This was where talking things through with Ren and testing my ideas in the Warrnambool Art Gallery was crucial. I laid the little boxes out on the gallery floor and Ren asked what it was that I most wanted people to see, my answer: a river. Ren suggested that bringing the boxes up to eye level whilst anchoring them to floor rather than suspending them. He prompted me to really think about what any new material would bring to the reading of the work. I had three days to work out a solution. I wandered through the hardware store puzzling over the different approaches I could take, finally I came upon PVC plumbing pipe and I felt a click in my imagination. I bought several lengths and began to experiment in my back yard.

It was really important that I create a sense of fluidity through the boxes as I arranged them on the PVC stilts which would form the base of my river.




The next step was to bring this into the gallery space. A lovely little crowd turned up for my artist talk. My good friend and photographer Brendan Kelly recorded the work for me. It was really nice to share the story of my research project, the loveliest moment was hearing an audience member say “that makes sense!” as I concluded – there are possibly no greater words to hear when you are in the final stages of writing your exegesis.


The installation was accompanied by the sound of my washing machine. I had first used this sound recording in my video installation work Inside Out (2014). The sound had come to represent the flow of water through the house along with the cleaning practices through which the space is maintained. The particular recording I captured included the sound of the washing machine spinning out of balance- the presence of entropy emerging within the very processes used to keep entropy at bay.

I finally felt like the work was close. As I packed my work up Ren prompted me to think about the PVC Pipes and the way they connected to the work- how might I use them to bring more fluidity into the work? How might I build on that notion of “truth to materials”.

At this stage in my PhD I was in the final stage of writing my exegesis. Returning home from my writing refuge late one evening the final form crystallised in my imagination.

The idea that the work should be a river had persisted since early 2017. During that time I had wondered which river it should replicate- the Gellibrand River from wherein Warrnambool takes its water supply? the Mitta Mitta or Murray Rivers from my childhood terrains? Perhaps the Merri River that flows through my neighbourhood?

Considering these questions as I sat on my coffee table and I became aware of “the river” that had sat within my research and my imagination since I had first began thinking about domesticated water in 2013. This “river” had sat off to the right of my minds eye throughout the research and not until that point actually moved into my focal awareness. In a subtle way I had always imagined the river diverted through my home beginning at my kitchen tap exiting through my bathroom ensuite. I realised that this was the river that I needed to make, one that followed these dimensions.


I began with a very loose draft mapped out in the materials I had at hand. I felt excited by the potential of the work that needed to be made. I also felt terrified by the prospect of attempting to complete it to the full potential of what it needed to be.

The completed form would be created almost a month later after the exegesis was submitted and I had amassed the armoury of PVC pipes and attachments required. The process was a particular kind of magic.







All PhDs must come to an end- Exit Paper and onwards…

I began my PhD in February 2012. My idea was to use creative practice to investigate the idea of aesthetic subjectivity. My hypothesis was that the aesthetic dimension of our experience acted as a conduit between the body and the world. I felt that aesthetic languages developed through exploring my body’s connection to its environment and making art could enable me to trace this connection. I began by examining my relationship to a number of key landscapes and then narrowed my research focus to the domain of my family home. Over time my home became a lens through which to look at the landscape and through this process I came to understand how the body overlaps with its environment.

In May 2017 I presented my Exit Paper at the ANU School of Art Graduate Conference. It was a big step towards bringing my research project to its conclusion.  This paper provides a good summary of my research and includes images of work completed through this inquiry. You’ll find the link here:

Examining Aesthetic Subjectivity in Embodied Environments- Becky Nevin Berger_ ANU School of Art Exit Paper

My paper refers to a short film made during this research. The film is called Inside Out and you can watch it below.




Oceanarium at COPACC – World Environment Day 2017

Oceanarium was invited to tour to the Colac Otway Performing Arts and Cultural Centre for world environment day in June 2017. Oceanarium was built with the idea of touring in mind and this was our first opportunity to test the water.

COPACC is an amazing venue and the two techs, Nic & Nick, are an absolute dream to work with. We got Oceanarium up over the course of three and half days- not bad considering what an epic construction it is; and all packed away and back into its container in a little over a day. We recorded the whole process on our Facebook page as we went.

We opened to the public on World Environment Day. Julie Mondon from Deakin University was able to join me in presenting speeches during the opening. It was wonderful to see our beautiful Oceanarium World come back to life. Colleen Hughson recorded the opening in the series of photos just below.

We offered an education program to primary schools over the following week. I was joined by Marine Science Graduates Mia Fallon and Emmalee Storm- veterans from Oceanarium at Fun4Kids- in the delivery of these programs. We had around 600 attendees over the course of the week from numerous primary schools, the home school network, families and daycare mums with young children, and a special needs day activity group. Watching the many different levels of interaction and joy was wonderful.


The versatility of the venue, the theatre scale projectors, and the deep dark curtains allowed Oceanarium to truly sing in the space- it was magic! The high ceilings allowed Sue Ferrari’s and Karen Richards Deep Dark Other World to be suspended much higher. This created the sense that you really were down quite deep looking back up through a dark, mysterious ocean. The venue also allowed for a reconfiguration of Deborah Saunder’s Woven Forest Whale Sanctuary in relation to Colleen Hughson video work- you can get a sense of it in the video below.



Skyway was commissioned by Moyne Shire in 2016 as part of their development of the Koroit Youth Space. The sculpture is the centre piece of a skate park that was purpose built for Koroit’s young crew after some pretty amazing lobbying by a young man called Mitchel Hughan. I developed the concept for the artwork over several months in consultation with  Moyne’s Manager of Recreation & Community Development as well as a conversation or two with Regional Arts Victoria’s Jo Grant, young Mitchel, and Nick Stranks from the ANU Sculpture Workshop. Jacquie is great. She is pragmatic and down to earth which allowed the process of developing this artwork to be a sincere creative process.

I wanted something that captured the colours of the sky when the south west’s clouds clear and everyone heads outdoors with a smile on- it’s a real phenomenon down here!

sky 2

I distilled the concept into the idea of two wings or sails, as pictured above, that opened two the sky. My original ideas included coloured acrylic sheet and reinforced painted timber panels to bring colour into the artwork. The outdoor site required robust materials that could withstand the south west’s brutal elements and the inevitable energetic encounters with skaters. Continued deliberation about the durability of materials led me to stainless steel. 20mm thick stainless steel to be precise. I knew the craftsman that could help bring this work to life, Murray (Muz) Adams.

I met with Muz at his Wangoom workshop and we got talking. A big ol’ 1980s CNC machine sits in his workshop. These machines are used to cut pre-programed shapes/pathways into metals. Muz suggested that this machine could provide a unique way to create the sculpture’s surface. And so began the next evolution.

If the sculpture could not replicate the colours of the sky then I felt that it should interact with the sky itself. Instead of painted clouds I would now create clouds through tiny holes perforated in the steel plate which allow light through its dark surface. The wings would be aligned north and south so that the rising and setting sun in the east and west would strike their faces, and out the right time of the year align (think Stonehenge or Manhattanhenge or Melbournehenge for that matter). As the sun moves across the sky the shadows thrown from the two wings change creating a dynamic relationship between the sculpture and the land around it.

The conversation with Muz about the CNC process led me to think about how the clouds could be created as relief carvings of various depths into the plate. Playing around with clay helped this process.

From here began the long process of creating the digital drawings that could talk to the CNC machine. Each panel was to have 11 unique cloud formations that graduated in size from the top to the bottom, each to be plotted in a continuous “tool pathway” that would allow the CNC machine to churn away. It was a learning process to say the least.

I sourced the steel from Surdex Steel Warrnambool, these guys were great- I cannot recommend them highly enough. They organised a generous price as well as plasma cutting and delivery as their contribution to the project.  Adam Thulborn from PM Design Group also saved the day by converting my messy files into something the plasma cutter could talk too.


The wings and bases arrived cut to size in Muz’s shed from which point he carbonised the steel which gave it a deep smokey surface. He then set the CNC in motion. As it cut the relief forms into the steel the under layer of shiny stainless was revealed creating a really cool contrast between the two surfaces.


There were around 3,000 holes drilled into the two wings. Turns out that drilling through 20mm steel plate takes time. Around 100hrs of machine time in this case- totally huge.

There were a number of hiccups, sagas, and learning curves along the way for Muz and I. The most notable of these was the kamikaze swan that flew into power lines taking out the workshop’s electricity just days before our looming deadline.

As the wings came off the CNC machine my job was to clean-up metal shavings left around the clouds to ensure that this beautiful tactile surface was totally safe for little fingers to touch. I used a dremal and about twenty small cutting blades to complete this. The final step was to use wax and a blow torch to put the finishing touches on the surface- Muz was the mastermind here but he let me have a play around. It was a fun way to keep warm on a pretty cold winter’s night!


As luck would have it wet weather prevented Skyway from being installed when the Koroit Youth Space- Skate Park opened in early July 2017. The ground was simply too wet to get the crane in. Skyway was instead lowered into position in under the careful instruction of Moyne Supervising Engineer Andrew Ottanelli in November 2017.

Once in place it looked like it had always been there. Muz and I had a chance to speak to Moyne Shire’s in house reporter not too long after- you can find that article and a pic or two here.

Mercy Canvas

Big Wall

In late 2016 I was commissioned by Mercy Place Aged Care Warrnambool to create a mural for their high care ward. The brief was to address two spaces within the ward. The first was the entrance hall which looked primarily like a hospital corridor. It was white and sterile. The second space was a twelve meter long wall within the dining room. Staff and management had expressed a desire to create a more warm and welcoming space within this wing of the facility which cared especially for those with dementia.

The design I created for the entrance hall sought to replicate a living room. I created a wall paper pattern and stencil to bring some domesticity to the hospice space. A fire place was painted at toward the end of the hall to draw attention away from the ward’s main doors. A plant stand was painted on the main doors in an effort to disguise the door handles.

Big Wall

The design for the dining room was a lot of fun. I needed to work around a number of fixtures such as the kitchen service roller door and a metal radiator. These provide the seeds for ideas- the roller door became a centre piece in the “Great Ocean Road Diner” food cart, and the radiator became part of a steel fence around a beach shack.  The scene that I created was comprised of a number a smaller scenes inspired by the Warrnambool and district landscape. This was done quite deliberately to reference settings familiar to the wards residents.

I began work on the project in August and completed it in November. Locale painter and decorator Rik Fox got the walls primed with coloured base coats – soothing green in the entrance hall, warm ocher in the dining room. Rik was a gem to work with. It was a massive undertaking but a pleasure at the same time- I became an artists in residence of sorts and found myself performing the role of painter as much as I actually painted.


I met some wonderful staff, residents, and volunteers during my time working on the mural. I was often given suggestions for things to add as I painted, and often I took these up- the chickens are among these.


I had joyful conversations with residents for whom the painting stirred their own recollections  of farm life, childhood, or whatever. There were so many characters. I am happy to report that the vast amount of people for whom that ward was now home were content, if not happy- and I watched how the artwork I created added to that. It was a lovely place to be a fly on the wall.