Rotary Club of Bendigo Sandhurst's East Timor Knitting Project has a new home - 'the ranch'

"Many hands make light work," or so the saying goes. Those leading the Rotary Club of Bendigo Sandhurst's East Timor Project had no idea when it started, almost 10 years ago, of how much it would grow.

MEMBERS of the Rotary Club of Bendigo Sandhurst’s East Timor Project know its new home as ‘the ranch’.

To the uninitiated, it looks just like any of the other steel sheds on the grounds of the Mechanic’s Institute Hall in California Gully. 

But behind the roller door is a work and storage space bursting with colour. 

The walls are lined with rows of meticulously labelled, colour-coded tubs full of knitted baby garments and blankets. 

Stacked in the shelving units are piles of fabric and countless bags. 

The black garbage bags contain kits ready for baling and shipping to mothers and infants in need in East Timor. 

The white bags are full of handmade blankets, created and donated by a central Victorian community. 

Ray Carrington, of the Rotary Club of Bendigo Sandhurst’s East Timor Knitting Project.
Picture: GLENN DANIELS

Ray Carrington, of the Rotary Club of Bendigo Sandhurst’s East Timor Knitting Project. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

Striped bags with pink tags are full of materials ready to be sewn into garments and assembled into kits.

Demand for woollen items might seem strange to those familiar with the mostly tropical climate of East Timor.

But the project’s champion, Patti Cotton OAM, said the residents of the hillside town of Maubisse were in need of blankets and warm attire. 

Items are distributed at maternal and child health centres - an incentive for mothers and children to attend for services such as vaccinations, antenatal and infant care, and parental support and guidance.

The Carmelite Sisters of East Timor, the provincial administrator in Maubisse and the Bendigo Maubisse Friendship Committee oversee the distribution and advise those in Bendigo about the demand for items.

Garments are shipped to Maubisse from Bendigo about four times a year. 

Based on the wool alone, the Rotary Club estimated the total value of donations since the project started at more than $1 million.

The garments and blankets amount to more than 13 tonnes of charity over about 10 years.

When the project started, Mrs Cotton said there were about 30 people involved. 

She believed the number of knitters now was “probably tipping 500”. 

“A lot of them, I will never meet,” Mrs Cotton said. 

Word about the project has spread throughout Victoria and interstate, to New South Wales. 

Destinations from which the contributions originate are too many, and too varied, to list.

Members of the Rotary Club of Bendigo Sandhurst's East Timor Project in the initiative's new home in California Gully. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

Members of the Rotary Club of Bendigo Sandhurst's East Timor Project in the initiative's new home in California Gully. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

As many as 100 people are expected to visit California Gully on Thursday for the grand opening of ‘the ranch’.

Mrs Cotton and her loyal team of volunteers are crafting hand-made flowers for the day – a gift for all involved, to thank them for their generosity.

As with most things Mrs Cotton does, the lapel-pins will serve as more than a decoration.

The colour-coded crafts will help attendees recognise the knitters, guests, and dignitaries in their midst. 

It will likely be the first time many of the project’s contributors have met.

There's no personal benefit - there's personal satisfaction.

Patti Cotton OAM

A permanent home for the project was urgently sought after Radius entered into administration last year

For eight years, the disability agency was the home of the Rotary Club of Bendigo Sandhurst’s East Timor Project.

The Radius site in Eaglehawk served as a site to receive and sort the goods, to pack the items and store them until needed by the families in Maubisse. 

The Rotary Club of Eaglehawk came to the project’s rescue, offering the use of the Mechanic’s Institute Hall in California Gully. 

All that was needed was a convenient spot for storage.

With the help of the City of Greater Bendigo, and backing from the Friends of the Bendigo Art Gallery, the Rotary Club of Bendigo Sandhurst received the support it needed to add an extra shed to the grounds at the Mechanic’s Institute Hall.

Assistance from Tim Miller Electrical, 2D Plumbing and Gas and Bolts and Fasteners enabled helped the club to erect and and fit out ‘the ranch’. 

Recipients of the garments in East Timor. Picture: SUPPLIED

Recipients of the garments in East Timor. Picture: SUPPLIED

Mrs Cotton said the project was made possible by the generosity of many.

But she reserved special praise for the knitters, without whom she said the initiative would not be possible. 

No matter how far away the contributions come from, Mrs Cotton said she did her best to make people feel included.

“I write to them twice a year,” she said.

“I send them photographs. I do everything I can to keep them in touch with what we’re doing.”

She was appreciative of the effort that people went to to be involved in the initiative. 

Mrs Cotton was aware of participants who devoted a portion of their pension to buying a few balls of wool for the project, each week.

They then volunteered the time and skill necessary to transform the yarn into garments for people they would likely never meet. 

Photographs of mothers and children in Maubisse using the hand-crafted items were precious to those involved in the project, Mrs Cotton said. 

A few display boards, stored in ‘the ranch’ ahead of Thursday’s celebrations, showcased photos of the garments in use. 

A gift from the community of Maubisse, in East Timor. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

A gift from the community of Maubisse, in East Timor. Picture: GLENN DANIELS

Bendigo last year received a visit from Sister Inacia Mafalda Fatima of the Carmelite Sisters of East Timor, to thank the volunteers for their contributions.

A gift from the Sister was attached to one of the display boards.

Mrs Cotton believed Rotary’s involvement in the initiative had been critical to its success.

“They know that we will treat (the garments) with respect, and they arrive in the place they’re meant to be,” Mrs Cotton said. 

“The container’s locked here and opened in East Timor.”

Bags are bailed in preparation for shipping with help from Quality Wool.