Avis created this project to work with local school and youth groups of the Kinglake Ranges and Yarra Valley who were impacted by the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. She believes 'Collaborative art projects promote 'connectedness', and through creative projects like this we can connect children to nature in their immediate environment, which increases their sense of belonging and their desire to protect it'. Assisting Avis in this project was her son Kim Murray. Though not an artist himself, Kim is definitely a people person and gained immense satisfaction from working with all the different groups.


'Totems in the Forest'

Avis Gardner

‘Totems in the Forest’ is an environmental arts project developed by artist Avis Gardner.

Totems are a universal symbol that serve as an emblem of a group of people, a reminder of ancestry or communication of a specific message. These Totemic collaborative sculptures provide observable habitats for the smallest creatures in the forest. They remind us that we are part of an interdependent ecosystem where all living creatures need shelter and as humans we need to protect their environment. 

10 Totems are installed in the Sculpture Trail alongside the works of the artists in residence. The following groups participated in this project:

Totems 1&2     Dixons Creek Primary School Grades 3 4 5 & 6

Totems 4 & 5   Kinglake Primary School Grades 1-6

Totems 3 & 8   Ellimatta Youth Group & Melbourne University                             Early Learning Centre

Totems 6 & 7   Healesville Primary School Grades 4 5 & 6

Totems 9 &10  Chum Creek Primary School Grades 1-6

At TST16, each student made their own piece which was either a tree-like form for spiders to weave their webs on or various shaped nests.  

The nature of the design of the totem is a perfect form for collaborative sculptures as each contributor creates their individual piece within the whole.

Integral to the project were forest walks led by local environmentalist Bernie Mace. 

Bernie's connection with the tall forests of Toolangi goes right back to his childhood when impressions of these giant trees were first etched into his consciousness. His personal quest to better understand the significance of the forest systems of the Central Highlands, has led to a desire to share his knowledge with visitors of all ages. During TST16 Bernie led the students on an exploration of the flora and fauna of Toolangi's forests where they came to understand the value of the forest as a living and dynamic system.

The markings on each ceramic component in the totems have been made by impressing materials sourced from the forest into the clay. All of these pieces and the Leadbeater's Possums that sit atop the totems have each been crafted by students from Healesville Primary School. 

"To my mind art is integral in our lives and vital for a healthy community. It is not just about being an artist, it is about activating the imagination". Avis Gardner

“If this was for humans I’d want to live here”.