Artists Gillie and Marc Schattner have expressed their “shock and disbelief” after Australia’s Parliament rejected their donation of a bronze sculpture memorial of Lewis the Koala.
Lewis was the terribly scorched koala that went viral after Toni Doherty, a grandmother in New South Wales, was filmed entering a bushfire in and around the town of Ellenborough to save him with the shirt off her own back. Lewis died from his burns, one of an estimated 1 billion or more animals in the worst bushfire crisis in Australian history.
The artists, who are married, said the sculpture was meant to be a gift to the government in order to “showcase what happened during this devastating time in Australia.”
Gillie and Marc explained on their official Facebook page that their gesture was rejected with a “cold email” saying, “We decline as it does not meet our policy.”
After public backlash and overwhelming support online, Gillie and Marc said they have reached out to several ministers in Canberra to negotiate a solution, and they are hoping for a positive outcome.
“We are now waiting for a response but in our hearts we know public opinion is on the side of Lewis and Parliament House must recognise this,” Gillie and Marc wrote on Facebook.
Parliament House told HuffPost, while greatly appreciating the gesture from the artists, the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) did initially decline the offer and explained the appropriate processes for accepting artwork into APH.
“DPS would be very pleased to consider an application from Mr and Ms Schattner for the work to be exhibited within Parliament House in line with the conditions of the Parliament’s Temporary Exhibition Policy,” DPS said on Friday.
“However, once the immediate bushfire emergency is over, DPS will work with the Parliament to consider an appropriate way to ensure fairness for all artists wishing to display artwork in APH which recognises the bushfire tragedy.’
“We didn’t for a second think that it would be an issue, we thought that they’d be honoured to have it there,” Gillie told HuffPost Australia. “We are devastated given everything Australia has been through.”
The renowned sculpture artists made four memorials that cost tens of thousands of dollars, and three have found locations ― one will go to Port Macquarie Koala Hospital (the facility that cared for Lewis), one to London and one to New York City.
“We wanted to find four incredible locations to showcase what happened during this devastating time in Australia,” the pair said.
Gillie and Marc asked the public in a Facebook post where they thought would be the best locations for the statues.
“More than 70% of the suggestions was Canberra, outside Parliament House,” Gillie said. “All we wanted was for somewhere people could see it and pay their respects.”
She added, “People of Australia want a memory of what happened. And for the government to acknowledge that this is something incredibly tragic that’s affected the core of our country.”
Gillie and Marc started work on the sculptures after hearing about Lewis’ ordeal and treatment but said they became more passionate when they heard Lewis had passed away from his injuries in November.
You can read Gillie and Marc’s Facebook post below:
This report has been updated to include an official statement from the Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS).