In Werribee, the tree of life lives beyond death

Tuesday 2 January 2018

Media and Communications Office

Parishioner Lawrie Grant says it with pinpoint accuracy. ‘Even in death there is a possibility for life.’

No more powerfully is this truth displayed than at St Andrew’s parish in Werribee, where parish priest Fr Frank Buhagiar has recently overseen the bringing back to life of a renowned old cedar tree, which succumbed to drought a number of years ago and was finally cut down in 2013.

Well, almost cut down. In the large section of trunk remaining after the death of the old cedar and its removal, Fr Frank visioned an opportunity to create something new, a new life emerging from the trunk of the old tree.

‘We couldn’t just remove it completely,’ says Fr Frank. ‘Our parish tree has a significant place in our parish history. It was planted many years ago. It had stood the test of time. Now it endures, in a totally new way. It has come to life again!’

The artist responsible for the creation of the ‘new life’ at St Andrew’s is Japanese artisan, Hikaru Kodama, who travelled from his home on the island of Hokkaido, Japan, to sculpt an image of parish patron, Saint Andrew, into the remains of the old tree.

And Hikaru’s tool of choice for the new carving?

A chain saw.

Not just any old chain saw, however. Hikaru Kodama is, in fact, one of the world’s leading chain saw sculptors, and one of the most decorated. A world traveller, he has visited Australia at least five times in recent years, participating in the Australian chainsaw carving championships and taking out first prize in 2014 and again in 2016.
For the carving of St Andrew at Werribee, Hikaru has created, in the words of St Andrew’s parishioner Lawrie Grant, ‘a wonderfully warm figure, with shoulders inclined, faintly, receptively towards the viewer. He is clothed as a ‘traveller’, hands resting on his work, work-weary perhaps but with time for a fellow traveller written compassionately on his face.’

Lawrie continues, ‘There is a strand in Japanese culture that commands respect for the trees in our natural environment. Even in death there is a possibility for life. We’re very grateful to Fr Frank for his wisdom in imagining a second life for the wasted bole. Hikaru’s work so enriches our parish place!’

Fr Buhagiar concurs. ‘I am so grateful to the three parishioners who donated the money for the project, and especially to the carver, Hikaru Kodama, who came all the way from Japan, used his skills to carve such a magnificent statue of St Andrew, our patron saint.’

Parishioner Lawrie Grant adds a final quotation, summing up the possibly disconcerting experience of suddenly confronting a life sized saint embedded in the trunk of a tree.

‘There is nothing like looking, if you want to find something. You certainly usually find something, if you look, but it is not always quite the something you were after.’ J.R.R. Tolkien.

St Andrew’s parish is situated at 105 Greaves Street North, Werribee.
Below, the cutting down of the original tree in 2013
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