Hooka Park-Place of Healing, Berkeley.

Artists Celeste Coucke and Ana Pollak

“The success of the art works depends on the skill of the artists to listen to community needs, to interpret these and help drive the creative process.”

Celeste Coucke

Works in timber, stone, steel, mosaic, stoneware; including the design of a carved and mosaic inlayed boardwalk, water pavilion and gardens. The project involved up to 300 individuals in meaningful art making activities over 18 months between 2003 and 2004.

The “Place of Healing” came from a vision by parents with children living with leukaemia, at an event called “Bright Lives” held at Hooka Creek in 2001. This event was initiated to channel feelings of anger into a celebration of life and healing.  From its inception, the Place of Healing at Hooka Park was designed to be a special place in the Illawarra that celebrates a sense of healing with the environment, of our bodies and our spirits.

“A place like this is for everyone- not just the person who has cancer but also the families and carers who have to deal with the everyday stresses of dealing with the disease”     

                                                    Donna Palmer at the inauguration of the Water Pavilion, 15th August 2004

Carved Bridge Handrails 

A carved food chain that aims to foster awareness and respect of the local environment. The multi lingual mosaic narrative along the rail aims to “bridge the gap” between different cultural groups




“The handrail is a carved story about what eats what in the lake. Life is a process of consuming and being consumed. Hopefully this food chain in carved relief will make people who see it think about and value more the ecology in the creeks and lakes”                                                                                           Ana Pollak

The bridge rail was designed by about 24 young people from Illawarra Sports High School. carving the rail took about 8 weeks and involved about 20 individuals. Only three people had previous carving skills. The mosaic works engraved into the bridge rail involved approximately 20 individuals. Only three had previous experience with mosaic.

Jetty Works

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The Jetty acts as a link between the bridge and the water pavilion, connecting the physical world (the food chain on the bridge rail) with the inner self (the contemplative place in the Water Pavilion) Giant plants with mosaic details are carved and inlayed along the jetty planks, depicting traditional Aboriginal healing remedies.

The jetty engravings were designed by Lorraine Brown and Narelle Thomas from Coomaditchie. Engraving, staining and inlaying the jetty with mosaic took 8 weeks and involved about 45 individuals.

Water Pavilion

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The water pavilion was designed with input from 10 individuals from a cancer support group. Thatched steel panels were made by apprentices from the Steelhaven Skills Centre and boys at Keelong Juvenile Justice Centre. carving on the pavilion decking involved students at Illawarra Sports Highschool, kids from the Youth Crisis Centre as well as local residents. Handprints of kids from camp quality were carved into the the timber benches by local residents. In total 40 individuals were involved in making the water pavilion.



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The boardwalk bench was carved with participants of “The Men’s Project”

A contemplative haiku written by cancer survivor Barbara was carved into the timber boardwalk facing the bench.

Sandstone Benches

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Stone seating provides a place to contemplate beautiful vistas across Lake Illawarra. Situated by the main pathway the seats are resting and meeting places for walkers. These works aim to foster awareness and respect of the local Dharrawal culture.

The outlines and names of the islands facing Hooka Park were carved into sandstone benches to inform people about their names and shapes.

The benches are encrusted with hundreds of stoneware shells,  referencing the aboriginal shell middens that were found at Hooka Park.

The stone carving involved about 18 individuals, mainly local residents but also aboriginal students at Illawarra Sports High School.  The shells were made by 150 individuals.

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Stoneware “chitons” incised with a poem by a local aboriginal woman, inset into sandstone.


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Project Manager: Sue Bessell, Wollongong Council.

Project Budget: $100,000

Funding Bodies: Wollongong City Council, Lake Illawarra Authority, Planning NSW, Healthy Cities Illawarra. 


In my work I seek to connect communities to stories that have shaped how we see ourselves and our environments. It’s all about listening and gathering stories, then reinterpreting them visually and disseminating via collaborative art making.

These processes are strong and meaningful. They connect people to stories and places in a physical rather than merely intellectual way. Without such connections, life becomes fragile.

Lives On the Line: NSW Railways Remember

Earlier this year, my partner Stephen Fearnley and I were thrilled to be selected to create a commemorative artwork that honours the commitment of NSW Railway men that served duringNSW Railway men.

“The outbreak of war in 1914 had dramatic impacts in Australia, with large numbers of men rushing to enlist for military service to serve their country. At the time, the NSW Railways and Tramways Department was the largest enterprise in the state, with 45,000 employees. Over the course of the war 8,447 men from the department enlisted for service and by the end of the war 1,210 of these men had died serving their country. Most NSW Railwaymen served amongst other soldiers fighting on the frontline, whilst some were recruited especially for their expertise to assist with operating railway lines for the war effort in Europe. The nature and scale of WWI suited the use of railways like no war before or since, with the war requiring massive transportation in an era where road vehicles and aviation were still too limited. Joseph Joffre, Commander-in-Chief of the French Army during the war declared: ‘This is a railway war… if we win this war it will be largely due to the railways.’  From nswrailwaysremember.com.au

The artwork that we are making is linear in nature and when finished will be 45 metres long. The work explores three themes: The first section references the extraordinary story of the men of the 6th Australian Broad Gauge Railway Operating Company (ABGROC) which was made up of volunteers from the NSW Government Railways. In July 1917 they took control of the locomotive depot and exchange sidings at Bergues Exchange that was supporting the Ypres area on the Western Front. 303 stoneware tiles – one for each member of the 6th ABGROC – are being handmade in the design of the red and purple shoulder patch worn by the Railway Operating Companies. Signatures from a Christmas card the company made in 1917 for the Chief Commissioner for the NSW Railways and Tramways, will be reproduced and subtly incised into these tiles. These tiles also reference ceramic tesserae used in many Federation railway stations.

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The deeper level of meaning of this section of the memorial references intellectual man: here is the “mind” of man.

The second section of the memorial is a collaborative artwork. At a series of events around NSW, members of the general public, as well as railways employees and their families, are invited to take part in clay workshops  to help make thousands of ceramic pieces to be included in a 28 metre long mosaic. We are aiming to make 8,447 objects- one for each man who served- ceramic facsimiles of everyday articles that would have been familiar to the men who served. Buckles, badges, buttons, keys, whistles, coins …fragments of objects that were trapped in the mud of battlefields and are being found to this day. When the work is installed the ceramic objects will appear as  flotsam caught in an eddy; from a distance the work will be a palimpsest of textures, close up the details will be revealed.

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The deeper level of meaning of this section of the memorial references physical man; this is the earthly realm, the “body” of man.

The third part of the memorial made of steel, punctured, as though with bullet holes. Each hole will be sealed with kiln slumped blue glass. The steel panels will be illuminated from below: 1210 starlike points of light, representing the number of NSW Railwaymen who died on the battlefields.

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The deeper level of meaning of this section of the memorial references that part of man which we cannot touch- the ethereal or “spirit” body. 

Over the course of the next few months I’ll chart the progress of “Lives on the Line” with images of the works in progress.