How a wombat changed a town

Or The Power of Art.

This is a story about an artist, a wombat and the community that has embraced them.

If you’ve been living under a rock, here’s a summary

In 2018, Emily Bissland from ABC in Warrnambool, made a little film about a wombat that was painted on the side of a rail bridge. Artist, Jimmi Buscombe was having a practice run of a wombat on the side of the bridge using non-permanent materials (that he intended to wash it off the next day). Local, Phil Hoye, decided it was too good to lose and went about making it permanent. Emily’s film captured this funny and serendipitous story so well that it has been viewed more than 53 million times! Yes, you read that right.

How it changed an artist

Fast forward six months and we catch up on what Jimmi is doing in his community post-wombat.  Jimmi’s career was suddenly changed. He had been working away, quietly developing his practice that he’d boldly decided to take full time as a working artist. He couldn’t have known a wombat would launch him into the spotlight, making his work highly sought after. Since then he has completed murals at Werribee Zoo, won the State Government Pick My Project vote to do a series of environment themed murals around Warrnambool (Jimmi’s project received the highest votes of any project outside Melbourne!) and has been the artist in residence at Lyndoch Living nursing home two days a week, painting murals for the residents.

Art impacts people, it really does

Jimmi’s work at Lyndoch has had a lovely impact on the residents and of course there’s a story in there. Emily recently returned to film his collaboration with Lynette Bruce, an artist who hadn’t picked up her paint brushes for years. Lynette lives at Lyndoch. This story is a profound example of how art links to health and how it creates and makes connections.

Has it changed the community, really?

In March V/Line announced they were completing rail upgrades to the Otway Road (wombat) bridge. In the official public notice the second line is, “The Warrnambool Wombat will not be affected”. So known and loved is the wombat, V/Line wouldn’t dare touch it. Gutsy the Wombat now belongs to the community and to the tourists and politicians and everyone that comes to see him. This wombat story, told beautifully by Emily at the ABC, has created a community in itself, one that has helped to build on the identify of Warrnambool and one that has helped to launch the career of an artist, interested in giving by doing what he does best; making people laugh and connect through art.

To get the full impact of this story, watch the two ABC produced films of the Otway Road bridge wombat here and here. Check out this article in the Standard here.

Follow Jimmi to stay up to date on his projects @jimmi_buscombe_artist

Follow his current winning project at #WildVsWarrnambool

Jimmi is a Regional Arts Victoria member.

Jo Grant is Regional Arts Victoria’s Creative Arts Facilitator for the Great South Coast region. She works closely with artists, communities and local government to advocate for the arts, support new work, keep people informed of key opportunities and support arts policy development.

Regional Arts Victoria is the peak body for regional artists and arts organisations in Victoria and the leading organisation for regional creative practice in Victoria. We are inspired by arts across the state, and through partnerships, programming and projects, we help develop creative practice all over Victoria.

Image by Sheridan Buscombe. Jimmi and Gutsy.