A Great Bendigo Yarn


One of the greatest – but little known – Bendigo yarns of recent times took a new twist on Thursday, October 26th, when the Rotary Club of Bendigo Sandhurst formally opened the new base for its East Timor Knitting Project.

The project, which has been running for 10 years, will officially move into its seventh (and hopefully last) home when it throws open the doors of its new facility at the California Gully Mechanics Institute.

The project has evolved to become one of the biggest in Rotary’s regional Victorian activities and is estimated to have helped improve the lives of thousands of East Timorese mothers and children in the highlands region around Maubisse, a historic town in the hills 70 km south of Dili.

The new base was developed by the Rotary Club of Bendigo Sandhurst with major assistance from the City of Greater Bendigo and the Rotary Club of Eaglehawk. Its opening marks a new highpoint in a project which already has a strong list of achievements.

In its 10 years so far, the knitting project has:

  • Assembled a team of more than 400 knitters from across Australia.
  • Sent more than 13 tonnes of knitted infants’ clothing and wraps to Maubisse.
  • Helped lower the infant death rate in East Timor.
  • Won recognition throughout Australia.
  • Consumed more than $1 million worth of wool.

The project began when an earlier charity expressed concern at donated clothing not getting to the targeted babies and mothers in Africa. Project creator and co-ordinator, Patti Cotton, spoke to local Rotarians linked with Maubisse projects and the idea swiftly developed a momentum of its own.

“Within three weeks we had 30 knitters on board,” Patti said. From there, it just took off by word of mouth and there are now more than 400 knitters throughout Australia putting their needles to the task.

“They just keep on popping up,” she said. In a recent event, she was asked to pick up a huge load of knitting from a group she had not previously heard of. The knitters come from many Victorian country towns and as far afield as Melbourne and Queensland and with ages ranging up to 103.

Patti said it was likely that many of the knitters saw the work as socially important, for them as well as the families of the Maubisse region. “People are just so generous. I know most would want to help in a heartbeat. But they get something from it too, such as the satisfaction of being able to make a difference to the poor mothers and infants.

Contributed knitwear is created to a set of patterns, transported to Bendigo, sorted and sewn and stored before being packed into aid containers and sent to East Timor. But the massive flow of knitted infant clothing and care has created its own issues. Patti – known locally as a champion networker – has become a champion knit-worker, harnessing the efforts of up to 30 of her friends from the Friends of the Bendigo Art Gallery to sew much of the knitted work together. Bendigo Sandhurst Rotarians organise it, oversee its storage and co-ordinate its shipping to East Timor.

The official opening of the new permanent home for the project will be the first time that many of the knitters, sewers and supporters have met”.

George Waters, President

Cover picture shows Bendigo Sandhurst Rotarians Patti Cotton and Ray Carrington checking the stocks in the new base.

Some of the women and children of the Maubisse region with some of the Bendigo project work already delivered.

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