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Connecting Gippsland through positive storytelling.


Complex simplicities.

Aug 20, 2023

Words: Sarah Westwood and Karin Ruff

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Fish Creek local Anda Banikos has “worn many, many hats” throughout her lifetime, but the common thread to her limitless endeavours? Her seamless vision for crafting a better world.

Anda is known to more than a few South Gippsland children as a teacher of music, drama, art and science. She’s also facilitated cultural programs in local schools, creating opportunities to meet artists, authors, illustrators, musicians and Indigenous educators: things that country kids often miss out on. She’s currently a specialist tutor for infant grades in literacy at Fish Creek Primary School, where she’s worked for more than 15 years.

“To achieve change it is so important that we listen to each other and carry the whole community with us.”

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Former students will remember her curating exhibitions of their childhood artwork, including the Great Southern Portrait Prize exhibition. Others will remember her as the person who encouraged their first steps onto the stage in student and amateur theatre productions.

Outside of her teaching career, Anda is celebrated for driving community arts projects in South Gippsland over the last 20 years. She is a talented costume and prop designer and a long-term member of Foster Arts, Music & Drama Association (FAMDA); her unique vision expertly weaves its way into many productions.

A connector of people, one of Anda’s favourite memories is HorseArtsAnzac in 2016. This art project brought together diverse community organisations like pony clubs, all-abilities artists, Manna Gum Community House, Federation Art Gallery, Korumburra Rotary and local businesses with the Returned Soldiers League to create sculptures honouring the work of the Anzac horses. She coordinated the making of the sculptures and helped create a series of handmade horse rugs that told the story of the Anzac horses. They featured in a grand parade at the Foster Show, led by representatives of the Mounted Light Horse Brigade on horseback – grandsons of the original diggers. HorseArtsAnzac has left its legacy in the horse sculptures dotted throughout South Gippsland.

From 2000–19 Anda was both treasurer and community arts event organiser with Prom Coast Arts Council. Prom Coast Arts Council stitched together a platform for artists and cultural producers to have a voice in South Gippsland. She and Michael Lester represented Prom Coast Arts Council on the Shire of South Gippsland’s Arts Policy and Strategy Working Group and their advocacy helped re-establish the shire position of Arts Development Officer.

Anda’s parents migrated to Australia as young refugees from the grim Soviet-annexed republic that Latvia had become after World War II. They met as adults in Australia and Anda grew up speaking Latvian. She laughs at the memory of learning English by listening to Kindergarten of the Air on the radio.

Anda grew up imbued with the rich Latvian tradition of textile design and handcrafts. Dyeing, weaving and knitting are ancient arts freighted with meaning. “Latvian textiles incorporate geometric patterns inspired by nature and the celestial parts of our world,” says Anda. “The sun, the moon and the morning star are symbols brought by the Indo-Aryan tribes who settled the land that became Latvia.” Latvian tradition recognises female deities: Mara, the Earth Mother; and Laima or Fortune who guides the path of human life – and both are represented by patterns that remain intensely alive for Latvian people.

Anda’s mother was a talented seamstress and an active member of the Latvian Artisans Association of Australia. Now those childhood connections have come full circle, with Anda taking on the role of president and secretary of the Association, which continues taking workshops into schools and communities to keep the Latvian heritage alive.

Latvia also carries powerful traditions of care for the natural world, which resonate with Anda. “There’s such a strong tradition of living with the produce of the land in Latvia. I think a lot of my strong connection to nature and ecology is from my heritage. My mother’s grandfather was a forester who looked after the forest and knew all the little creatures and plants. He taught my mother the importance of biodiversity. On my father’s side, there was strong herbal knowledge.”

With her life partner Yianni, Anda is a long-time active member of Fish Creek Landcare, and a member of Prom Area Climate Action, Just Transition South Gippsland and Friends of the Prom. She holds deep concern for biodiversity loss and climate warming and brings a formidable intellect and capacity for sheer hard physical work to these issues. Her skill at communicating sees her don a koala suit whenever there’s an opportunity to get the message out that the Strzelecki koala is critical to the survival of koala species in Australia and needs to be protected.

In 2021 she brought the community together and coordinated a successful legal challenge to the proposed expansion of the Lavers Hill Quarry near Fish Creek. If left unchecked, this development would have destroyed a remaining wildlife corridor that shelters threatened species and Aboriginal heritage sites.

In 2021 Anda also stood as an independent candidate in the Coastal Promontory Ward in the South Gippsland Shire election. She wasn’t elected, but the importance for her lay in the campaign, in contributing to the public debate on issues she believes fundamental to the future of this place.

“It’s critical that we have a democratic voice – that we listen to each other, that we make an effort to consult with people whose voices aren’t usually heard,” she says. “To achieve change it is so important that we listen to each other and carry the whole community with us.”

In 2022 Anda co-founded and began advocating for a project called Prom Coast Ecolink that aims to bring the existing east-west South Gippsland Rail Trail green corridor together with a north-south green corridor linking the Strzelecki Ranges to the Cape Liptrap Coastal Park. It’s a huge vision, taking inspiration from Gondwana Link, the West Australian project that is working on a continuous bio-link of native habitat extending over 1000 kilometres in that state.

“It’s time for South Gippsland Shire to have a bio-link plan too,” Anda says, “one that can be both economically and environmentally sustainable and foster new and better collaborations between public and private groups here.”

Unsurprisingly, Anda rates one of her biggest challenges now as time management and juggling her myriad commitments. If it was possible to unravel the time-space continuum and give Anda Banikos just a little bit more time, imagine what she could do with it.

Dive into more of this rich storytelling in Celebrate Her! Stories of South Gippsland Women, published by Michelle Gordon AC, written by Sarah Westwood and Karin Ruff, edited by Sally-Anne Watson Kane, with photos from Karli Duckett.

Look for a copy at your community library. Don't miss the Celebrate Her! exhibition at Stockyard Gallery, Foster this June.

Gippslandia - Issue No. 27

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