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HOW IT ALL STARTED...
Peter Harris and his wife Judy first met when they were teachers in western New South Wales, Australia.
Peter is also a recording artist and at the time was writing and recording various commissioned works for the ABC, from Burke and Wills to Wind in the Willows.
Eventually Peter and Judy built a slide on camper for the 4WD ute and headed east to look for some land.
They found a beautiful secluded rocky valley with a ravine.....
and a bubbling creek......
They fell in love with it, and carefully inched their way down a treacherous track to a hidden valley. Here they offloaded the camper and slept in it for the next 18 months whille they explored the land, looked for a house site and learned to understand the climate with its high rainfall, violent events and humidity.
ABC WILDLIFE BROADCASTS and CHILDREN'S PROJECT
Peter started writing short descriptions of his encounters with the wildlife and for some years would
Around this time, computing technology was advancing rapidly, and the first of a higher quality consumer video
It was a real surprise to us that these expensive toys didn't have much character in front of the camera! They looked lifeless and more like a caricature of the real thing. We were very disappointed and looked for reasons why. We began to understand that the makers of these toys weren't really trying to capture the spirit of the Australian wildlife, beyond basic representations. Rather they were trying to create toys based on what they thought people would buy for children. We began to realise the shapes were mostly more like cartoon creatures, the colours were a bit gaudy looking and the materials were not very convincing, and could be seen on teddy bears and all sorts of other typical soft toys.
MAKING OUR OWN VIDEO STARS
It was a real setback to the project as we realised we would have to make our own characters - quite a daunting proposal. So Peter went off to a local fabric store and selected a range of shaggy material along with some sharp scissors. Another friend, Merril, looked further afield but we eventually realised we would have to design our own materials. It took a long time to create the first toys from scratch with no patterns. But eventually they began to take shape and storytelling through video looked hopeful at last.
Peter was turning grey but eventually some beautiful creatures began to emerge from his studio. Here, the goanna teaches him how to design a frog...
THE SECRET GULLY PROJECT
This interest brought home to us how much people loved our native wildlife and wanted to protect and care for them. So the emphasis began to shift into developing some toys with an educational and environmental purpose. As interest grew in the toys, there was not enough hours in the day for making them. And the process was slow and laborious with the toys being expensive to make. We were sad to find that it was going to be too expensive to manufacture these hand made toys in Australia, and all the materials had to be imported anyway.
Merril met another toy maker who was just in the process of helping to finance some Chinese family friends set up a small sewing business in China. Wei Wei was gathering together a few women to do the sewing and hand assembly.
The Secret Gully venture came into full being. Manufacturing in China posed some ethical challenges for us. We wanted to be sure that the women were paid fairly. We wanted to be sure that they worked in good conditions. We knew the women wanted to work to educate their children and to become financially independent, so we wanted to develop a partnership on a fair and just basis. We did not feel that the large faceless toymaking factories that were offering bulk manufacture was the right way to go for our beautiful ethical creatures.
Merril initially visited the factory and worked with the pattern maker and the women. She also visited the material manufacturing factories because we wanted to design our own high quality, realistic toy furs.
In November 2008 another friend, Heather Lawrence, took on the creative responsibility for the production of our toys. After spending time with the women in the factory in 2010, Heather and Weiwei agreed to develop a partnership based of a fair and just process for all the people involved in the manufacture of our toys.
Meanwhile, Peter keeps an eye on the weather, and on sunny days disappears into the valley to film his puppet characters at play. At other times he strums a guitar, writing the delightful children's songs for the characters to sing.
GULLY - CHILDREN'S ENVIRONMENTAL PROJECT
Also children's stories, videos, music, games and activities.