The Secret Gully Story
How it all started...
ABC WILDLIFE BROADCASTS and CHILDREN'S PROJECT
Peter started writing short descriptions of his encounters with the wildlife and for some years would
read a short episode every sunday on ABC radio. The feedback from listeners, who often wanted copies of the narrations to read to their children, encouraged him to plan a childrens' environmental project.
Around this time, computing technology was advancing rapidly, and the first of a higher quality consumer video camera was released that could download footage into a home computer. With the enthusiasm of some friends from the Arts community, a children's project called Secret Gully was born and the first vision for it was as a small video production, exploring the lives of the various beautiful creatures in the valley. A trip was planned to the Gold Coast to get a range of top quality Australian wildlife toys for filming in the bush.
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.
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.
We are very thrilled with the beautiful work of the women in Wei Wei's factory and look forward to an ongoing and ethical relationship with them. We are currently working towards a Fair Trade business partnership with Wei Wei and her small group of women workers.
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.