THAT a dingo might come to mind when thinking about what makes Dunolly home is, Philip Ashton concedes, "a bit of a surprise".
A dingo sculpture may soon join the recently completed "Big Boy" and a flying dog in the pantheon of pieces by world-renowned artist Deborah Halpern around Dunolly, a town of roughly 900 people 50 minutes west of Bendigo.
A dingo was not the only unexpected idea to emerge when Dunolly Primary School students were asked to draw their "sense of place".
"We had an amazing amount of unicorns," Mr Ashton said.
"There were houses, pets - anything the kids considered important to them. They also wrote little stories on the pages.
"We basically tried to contact as many groups in the community as we could and ended up with a whole stack of drawings.
"With Deborah's help we selected drawings we could use for the sculptures."
Ms Halpern - whose works include Angel, a sculpture standing beside Melbourne's Federation Square, and Ophelia, which is in Southbank by the Yarra River - has often dedicated her skills to community projects.
She helped Mr Ashton, his wife Anna and fellow Dunolly resident Judy Meldrum pull the project together.
"Big Boy" and a flying dog were recently installed in Dunolly's Gordon Gardens and will be important features when upgrades to the reserve are completed.
The dingo and a kangaroo sculpture could go on show next year, but that will depend.
A dispute has emerged over one of the sculptures, with some residents objecting to the original location selected for it to be installed.
The Central Goldfields Shire had hoped the statue could have gone out the front of a vacant building on Broadway - a street at the epicentre of town - which is steeped in Dunolly's past, Central Goldfields Shire chief administrator Noel Harvey said.
"Some residents felt a statue out the front would be inappropriate," he said.
The building is a former hotel connected to Cobb & Co, which began running coach services into central Victoria in 1854 before expanding over large parts of Australia.
'Animated' meeting may have uncovered a compromise
The disagreement is a disappointing development in a project that has so successfully brought people together, Mr Harvey said.
But an at times "animated" meeting with concerned residents three weeks ago may have uncovered the solution, he said.
"I feel we have got to a point where ... we are trying to come up with a compromise location most people can accept.
"I've got in front of me five or six sites that have been suggested by the community and we are going through each one."
Mr Harvey said there will be people who will not be happy with any site that is selected.
"I've been through a number of processes around public art in the past and there are always people who want to discuss and debate it," Mr Harvey said.
"That's the nature of public art.
"Though I have to say, by and large, the debate has largely been very respectful of the people involved, and the work that has been involved. I think we can get to a point where everyone is prepared to compromise."
Dunolly is on the cusp of a unique opportunity - if it wants it: administrator
Dunolly "does struggle" and Mr Harvey hoped the pieces will encourage more tourists to stop there.
"It's a little town with a magnificent history and some superb buildings, but we need to broaden that base ... to look for creative and innovative ways of bringing people to the town, move along the street and spend their money," he said.
More ideas like the sculptures should be explored but any final decisions should be up to the community to shape, Mr Harvey said.
"That's a process that Dunolly has been exploring for quite some time now," he said.
"We need to honour our history ... but the reality is that we now need to start creating our own history so that in another 100 years people can look back at what Dunolly has done and be amazed at what we did on top of our gold history."
I've been through a number of processes around public art in the past and there are always people who want to discuss and debate it. That's the nature of public art. Though I have to say, by and large, the debate has largely been very respectful.Noel Harvey, Central Goldfields Shire chief administrator
In the meantime, Dunolly has a unique opportunity, Mr Harvey said.
"There wouldn't be another town in Australia that will have a collection of Deborah Halpern works - or another by an artist of such renown - spread around the town," he said.
"I try to explain to people that when you are talking about tourists you actually need to find your point of uniqueness to draw people your town.
"Clunes' Booktown festival is a really good example of that. Or look at the transformation in Bendigo around the art gallery and the amazing attraction that's become.
"That's what towns need to identify: a point of difference that no-one else has got."
Ultimately, though, the Deborah Halpern pieces were not created to bring in tourists.
They were made so that the community could unite and express itself, Mr Ashton said.
Many residents had a direct hand in shaping the sculptures. by creating tiles that adorn the back of each work, he said.
"Lots of community groups are represented. Just about everything related to Dunolly that you can think of is on that side (of the works)," Mr Ashton said.
"So lots of people have gone to the sculptures and said 'oh look, I've seen my tile!'"
Dunolly is starting to gain a reputation within the shire and its surrounds as a place where art happens, Mr Ashton said.
"So, it's being seen as a place where people go for all sorts of art activities," he said.
"In fact, Deborah has actually bought a property in town, which she will be using to run workshops from."
The Dunolly - a sense of place project was made possible by funding and support from Creative Victoria and the Regional Centre for Culture.
Pieces that have already been installed can be viewed at the Gordon Gardens on Bull Street, Dunolly.