Playground sparks a community adventure

THEY SAY it takes a village to raise a child, and the Sandringham community has shown what a modern-day village can do.

In five days of frenzied effort that capped two years of planning, parents, children and friends built a huge adventure playground (pictured above and on cover) that the school could not have afforded any other way.

In many ways the project was a power-tooled version of the Amish barn-raising scene in the film Witness. Whole families turned out; the younger children were cared for in on-site creches by volunteers, while workers were fed two hot meals a day from great trays of food also donated by parents.

About 250 people came to help on each weekday and at the weekend the equipment could hardly be seen for the 400 volunteers swarming over it. Exhaustive doorknocking of the wider community had tapped into generosity that was of more use than money: the army sent reservists; the local fire brigade offered digging machinery and men; and at dusk each evening a State Emergency Service truck arrived and raised arc-lights on a pole so that work could continue after dark.

A committee of the school’s children had told the designers what they wanted. The result is a mad and marvellous fairytale mix that includes castle turrets and throne seats (princes and princesses were big) and a “telephone” pipe for hurling friendly abuse from one side of the playground to the other.

There is an amphitheatre for outdoor classes, a series of mazes, a puppet theatre and a spider-web climber. The older children had wanted equipment they could race each other on, so there are double monkey bars.

Preppies’ drawings were copied in chalk on to the sides of huge cement pipes and turned into mosaic murals by mothers who had spent the previous day smashing donated bathroom tiles into small pieces. As with many of the other tasks in the building work, no real skills were needed to stick the tile fragments into the chalked outlines, but the result is a free- spirited mix of butterflies, octopuses and dragons.

The playground was the brainchild of parent and school council member Bridie Murphy. She estimates that the cost of $40,000 would have doubled or trebled if the school had paid for labor.

The intangible benefits of the project are just as important, but harder to quantify. Parents who had never spoken to each other before got to know and laugh with those they worked beside. And, as in a village, children could see their parents work and offer help.

Like the fine old Amish barns, the playground will bear witness to this for a long, long time.

First published in The Age.