Artists of Toolangi

by Sunderai Felich

Originally from metropolitan Melbourne, my partner Savaad and I moved to the Yarra Valley in 1986 after the birth of our son Meeran. We were thinking of building in Chum Creek when a local builder, Chris Overend, mentioned that an acre block was for sale in Toolangi, on the corner of the Main Road and Cherrys Lane. It was owned by the Kelly family, originally owners of the old Post Office and General Store.

As soon as we viewed the block, we knew it was for us. An added bonus was that it was across the road from Toolangi Primary School, which Meeran later attended. We met Mrs Kelly over a cup of tea by the old wood stove in her kitchen and she consented for us to purchase the property. Chris built our nine-square, A-frame timber house from local Mountain Ash and we officially became residents of Toolangi at Easter, 1988.

Savaad’s working background was in horticulture. Whilst working at the Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens he developed an interest in sculpture and would chisel away during his breaks. Over time this led him to become a well-known sculptor throughout the local area. With assistance, he built his mudbrick studio. Many people have visited over the years, including those for the Yarra Valley Arts Open Studios program.

In the year 2000 Savaad applied for a position at Yering Station winery as a garden supervisor. His vision of a Yering Station Sculpture Exhibition also came to fruition in 2001, with the support of the Yarra Valley Arts Council. This well-recognised and prestigious event last year celebrated its 20th anniversary, albeit postponed to 2021, due to the Covid pandemic. Over time Savaad moved from the gardens to totally manage Yering Station’s arts program, including the gallery at the cellar door, until his retirement in 2015.

In 1996 Savaad was site manager for the Toolangi Sculpture Trail, founded by a renowned local sculptor, Ernst Fries. Ten national and international artists gathered for two weeks alongside the Forestry Discovery Centre and established a sculpture ephemeral art trail. On the 20th anniversary in 2016, fifteen artists were employed to add new works. The two-kilometre walk provides a forest gallery for locals and visitors alike.

My own background is in childbirth education and support. I established Dial a Doula in 2004, training doulas to support women and their families during pregnancy, birth and the postpartum time. I have attended over one hundred births in both the hospital and home settings. A home birth I remember well was supporting the Overend family for the birth of their fourth child, Bede. Jenny Overend is remembered as a well-known children’s author. The birth of Bede was recorded in her book Hello Baby, illustrated by Julie Vivas and published by ABC books.

Initially I trained as a pre-school mothercraft nurse and over the years I have worked at various childcare centres and kindergartens in the Yarra Valley. I especially enjoyed running the Occasional Childcare at the Living and Learning Centre in Healesville. From 1992 to 1994 I worked as kindergarten assistant at the Toolangi Kindergarten, which operated from the Community House. This replaced the mobile kindergarten that previously came up from Healesville.

This year I ran my last Doula Training course and I am currently in semi-retirement, with my focus on writing and performing. My interest in this area was sparked after being a participant of ‘Hello Healesville’, performed at the Healesville Memorial Hall in 2019. Most days are now spent on our Toolangi property, Savaad in his studio and me in my ‘writing room’. We appreciate the sense of community here and love it just as much as the day we moved in.