Stolen Hello Koala sculpture returned

Senseless theft: social media led to the return of Starry Soul, pictured with Hello Koala project manager Linda Hall. Pic: PETER GLEESON

Senseless theft: social media led to the return of Starry Soul, pictured with Hello Koala project manager Linda Hall. Pic: PETER GLEESON


CROWING on social media undid those who allegedly stole Hello Koala sculpture Starry Soul from the Town Green early on Monday.

While the sculpture was returned on Tuesday morning, the impact of the theft has forced organisers to consider removing all sculptures from the foreshore.

Hello Koala project manager Linda Hall said Discover Magazine's koala was taken from its plinth outside the Beach House between midnight and 7am on Monday.

A Port News social media campaign started on Monday generated a huge community backlash over the removal of the sculpture.

Security footage, Facebook conversations and photos allegedly showing people  interfering with the sculpture were handed over to police.

A police spokesman was unable to comment on the investigation on Tuesday.

Officers found Starry Soul outside the Port Macquarie police station early on Tuesday morning.

It is the third koala to be targeted by vandals since the popular sculpture trail initiative was launched in September.

A statement from Arts and Health Australia, the instigator of the trail, condemned the behaviour of some people on Sunday night around the Town Green.

"If the Town Green is an alcohol-free zone from 9pm to 9am, there is clearly a lack of enforcement of the rules and regulations," the statement said.

"When we researched the challenges of mounting a large-scale sculpture project, we found that in other projects, vandalism and theft were rare because communities had adopted and cared for their sculptures.

"We recognised that a public domain like the Town Green, on the Port Macquarie foreshore, was potentially vulnerable. But we held the hope that the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail would capture peoples' imagination and hearts and be protected. By and large, we have found this to be true."

The group's executive director Margret Meagher said she was extremely saddened by the vandalism and subsequent theft.

"Our sculptures carry a sign which asks people not to climb onto the koala sculptures and to respect the work of our artists," Ms Meagher said.

"Sadly this message is not getting through to a cross section of the community. People need to understand that the sculptures are not a piece of play equipment to climb or jump all over - they are works of art.

"While Port Macquarie-Hastings Council is the principal sponsor of the Hello Koalas Sculpture Trail, Arts and Health Australia is a small organisation and these acts of vandalism cost us dearly in terms of repairing the sculptures.

"They also impact on the community which is enjoying this free family entertainment, with many people wanting to see all 50 koala sculptures."

Starry Soul might be back, but the sculpture won't be returning to the Town Green.

Ms Hall said once the sculpture has been repaired it will be moved to a less dangerous location, citing the October 10 vandalism of two Town Green sculptures following the Port Cup.

"We will spend the next week considering an alternative site and will advise locals and visitors about the relocation via our website and social media channels," Ms Hall said.

"We are very saddened that these alcohol-fuelled attacks on our sculptures and the general anti-social behaviour by some people in the Port Macquarie CBD foreshore after dark has impacted on the pleasure and enjoyment of the trail that most of the community has warmly embraced."

ben.cooper@fairfaxmedia.com.au

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