Kyabram Free Press
Big (knitted) shoes to fill
AFTER more than a decade at the helm of the local effort for the East Timor Knitting Project, 84-year-old Kyabram woman Audrey Ratcliffe is looking to pass on the knitting needles to a new leader.
In the last 10 years she has led a group of knitters from both Kyabram and Tongala who have crocheted, constructed, packed and sent bundles of hope and tonnes of warm clothing to impoverished mothers and their babies in Maubisse, East Timor. They work as part of a larger Timor project run by the Bendigo Rotary Club and headed by Patti Cotton OAM.
The items provide an incentive for mothers to bring their children to maternal healthcare centres, where they are distributed.
These centres provide services like vaccinations, antenatal and infant care, and parental guidance.
‘‘I just can’t stand to think that there are children out there who are hungry, cold or homeless. And if we can do something about it, we should do it,’’ said Audrey.
Between Audrey and the dozen or so women who knit for the project in the local area, an estimated 10,000 articles — either socks, jumpers, beanies, teddies or blankets — have been contributed to the cause.
And they’re about to send another 900 to Bendigo — including some 184 jumpers, 227 beanies and 115 quilts.
‘‘Many of the women who knit, I have no idea who they are. They’ve been doing it for years but I might never meet them. They drop them off to our dropoff points and I collect them. They really are amazing,’’ she said.
As well as knitters and crocheters, Audrey has garnered a following of people who offer regular wool donations, and some who go hunting in op shops to keep the supplies cupboard fully stocked.
The pieces made out of this wool are beautifully colourful with vibrant blues, yellows, reds and purples in haphazard combinations.
Audrey says that colour is an important part of the Timor culture.
‘‘I don’t suppose there is a lot of colour in their lives sometimes, so I think it’s great that we get to send things that are so vivid,’’ she said.
Over the years, many have asked Audrey about the need for knitted garments in the warm Timor climate.
‘‘The village that we send to is high in the mountains, and it gets very cold. I really can’t bear to think about children being cold,’’Audrey said.
The knitted or crocheted goods are shipped to Maubisse from Bendigo four times a year.
Audrey started with the project when she was working in Bendigo, before returning to Kyabram.
‘‘I’ve had a really good life and I’ve been so lucky. I guess when I came across this project it just felt natural to want to give something back, and that feeling hasn’t changed over the years.
‘‘I grew up in the throes of war, which meant our family experienced food rationing. My mother and father were always so generous and would make sure our neighbours had something to eat, even when we had hardly enough ourselves.
‘‘I can remember my father going into the bush and collecting firewood — and then having to go again because my mother gave it all away.
‘‘I guess that is where I really get the heart for this from. It gives me great satisfaction to know that we have helped a child be a little warmer or a little more healthy,’ she said.
Although she’s still got plans to be crocheting blankets for the project, Audrey is now looking for an individual or group that is able to take the reins when she retires from her position as coordinator on May 31.
The group or individual would be responsible for collecting the items from drop-off points (Ratcliffe’s Garden Machinery and Boomerang Travel) every couple of months, separating them into types, and taking them up to Bendigo two to three times a year.
‘‘It would be such a shame for the program to cease. I would love to hear from anyone who is interested. It is neither stressful or strenuous, but after 10 years, I’ve decided I could do with a rest,’’ she said.
Call Audrey on 5852 2185 if you’re interested in helping out.