FROM horror and tragedy, the family of murdered Bendigo baby Zayden Veal-Whitting found a way to bring peace and joy.
On Wednesday, the City of Greater Bendigo unveiled plans for a $1.3 million playground beside Lake Neangar.
The Eaglehawk Regional Play Space will feature a junior play area celebrating Zayden’s life.
The section, to be called Where Angels Play, will be butterfly-themed.
Inspiration for a playground came to Zayden’s aunt, Angie Whitting, while she was grieving his death.
A Supreme Court jury found Harley Hicks guilty of Zayden’s murder, for which Hicks was sentenced to life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 32 years.
The court heard Hicks was committing a series of burglaries when he entered Zayden's home and bludgeoned him to death with a home-made baton.
The murderer was refused leave to appeal his sentence.
Miss Whitting said the family was motivated by the desire for something positive after everything that had happened.
“The first couple of years was really hard,” she said.
“You can’t grieve when you’ve got a trial coming up and everyone’s in your face, and it was such a public case that it was really hard for us to grieve.”
The concept for Where Angels Play just popped into her head, Miss Whitting said.
“I was just sitting there thinking one day and thought a playground would be a good idea,” she said.
Having received the support of Zayden’s mother, Casey Veal, and stepmother, Michelle Kneebone, she emailed the council.
“They were happy to sit down and talk to us, and it began from there,” Miss Whitting said.
She said the playground had “come a long way” from her original idea, and was impressed by both its size and all the features the city was planning to build.
It was also a source of comfort for the family to see the support the project had received from the broader community.
Miss Whitting went public with her idea in 2014.
The community raised $25,000 for the campaign, which will help fund Where Angels Play’s construction.
“The amount of community support from not only the sponsors, but the general community for our fundraising, they've been amazing,” Ms Kneebone said.
“Without them this wouldn't have happened, because we wouldn't have been able to raise the funds.”
The playground has brought hope and joy to Zayden’s family.
“I’ve never really heard of anything so positive that’s actually associated with something so negative,” his mother, Miss Veal, said.
Speaking to people, especially strangers, about Zayden has been easier because of the project.
“It's a positive way for them to approach me and say to me how excited they are about it, or what a good idea it is and I've had a lot of people approach me who have lost children themselves and it's meant a lot to them, which means huge amounts to us,” Miss Veal said.
She said Zayden’s older brother, Xavier, was impatient for the play area to be completed.
“He's really excited just to be able to say Zayden's name and talk about him and it not be a sad or a horrible thing,” Miss Veal said.
“He has a sparkle in his eyes again because he’s so excited for it to be built.
“It’s nice to see such a joy in Xavier.”
She said she was “over the moon”, seeing the plans for the play space.
“To have something like this playground is huge – somewhere we can smile and make memories,” Miss Veal said.
But Zayden’s family stressed that the play area was not just about them – that, for a whole community, it would be a place of love, of hope, and for people to remember and reflect on loved ones lost.
City of Greater Bendigo landscape architect Gary Lantzsch said community was part of the inspiration for the design, which the council expects to be “the largest and most unique play space” in the municipality.
The play space, in its entirety, is shaped like an eagle and will feature an Eaglehawk blue border.
The theme was inspired by Banjo Patterson’s poem, Mulga Bill’s Bicycle, which starts with the line, “’Twas Mulga Bill from Eaglehawk”.
Play equipment will be custom-designed for the space, including a tower with a seven-metre lookout and a four-metre slide.
There will be hamster wheels, a swing zone, and a double flying fox – or ‘flying eagle’, as council would have it.
Pathways, picnic and barbecue facilities are also included in the plans for the multi-zoned space.
Greater Bendigo presentation and assets director Craig Lloyd said Lake Neangar was already popular with the city’s residents.
“When completed later this year it will enhance the area and add to the variety of activities on offer,” he said of the project.
The city expects the play space to be completed this summer, and will be inviting tenders for construction in the near future.
The council allocated $800,000 of the $1.3 million total project cost in its 2017-18 budget.
Community groups, which contributed a total of $120,000 to the project, were also represented at Wednesday’s event.
They included: Empowering Eaglehawk; Borough Club; Eaglehawk Rotary; Eaglehawk UFS Dispensary; Bendigo Regional YMCA; Y Service Club of Eaglehawk; Eaglehawk Lions Club; Bendigo Bank; and the Family and Friends of Baby Zayden Veal-Whitting.