In Mathoura, a small town in the countryside 250 kilometers north of Melbourne, there is a fence covered with thousands of bras.
For passers-by, the bra fence is something of a sight and a bit of a mystery at first.
“Some of them say they come up over the little climb in the road and it just stands out. And then they have to stop and find out,” says Sharnie Celli ABC RN’s hearing range.
But for the locals, the fence is a reminder of how the people of Mathoura have come together to help each other in times of need.
Sharnie started the fence almost four years ago. Back then it was only one bra.
“A naughty green one with frogs on,” she says.
“Which was what Wendy was all about.”
Funny and naughty, just like Wendy
Wendy Nikolovski died of breast cancer in 2017. She was one of Sharnie’s closest friends.
After Wendy’s death, Sharnie wanted to do something to honor her friend and also give others the opportunity to remember those they had lost due to cancer.
She got the idea for a bra fence after seeing a travel show about a similar fence in Cardrona in Central Otago, New Zealand, which started back in the late 90s.
“I liked the idea because it was fun, different and naughty, just like Wendy.”
But she says it was not as easy to get off the ground as she had imagined.
“[I was] trying to find a fence to hang the bras on, “she says.
Eventually, Mathoura local Ann Robertson voluntarily reported the fence on her property.
For Ann, it was easy to honor Wendy.
Wendy and her husband had owned the Mathoura post office, where many of the locals did their banking, and Ann says her friend always had a positive impact on the city.
“Even when she was battling cancer, she still had a smile on her face and went to work every day while she was still capable of it,” Ann says.
“[Wendy] did not stop. She raised money for the skate park. She was involved in everything that was a fundraiser and was a very community-oriented person. “
“I do not think there is anyone who would have a bad word to say about her. [She was] just a beautiful person and very much missed. “
While the bras on the Cardrona fence were cleared after the city council considered the fence a sore oneit’s another story in Mathoura.
The locals are proud of the fence – and the bras have become many.
“We reached about 750 and we stopped counting,” Sharnie says.
“Everyone we have met is very grateful that we are doing this.”
In addition to the thousands of bras, there is a donation box attached to the fence. It’s there for anyone who wants to donate a dollar or two.
Sharnie and Ann use the money to buy gasoline and food stamps for locals undergoing cancer treatment. Many face either a two-hour trip to Bendigo or a three-and-a-half-hour trip to Melbourne several times a week.
“It’s about making their lives a little bit easier,” Ann says.
Since its inception, the fence has raised over $ 20,000 and supported more than 30 community members.
‘I’m that cancer patient’
Like other Mathoura locals, Tim Starkey knew what the bra fence stood for.
So when his dad came home one night and gave him some coupons, he would not take them at first.
“I’m pretty sure Dad went to the gas station. Because Ann works there, she had given him the coupons when he refueled and [she’d] said, ‘Take them home and use them as you wish’. “
Tim sent a message to Ann to thank her, but he admits he was on guard.
“I thought in my head, ‘Shit, now I’m the cancer patient. I’m the person society looks at … or tries to help.’
Tim was diagnosed with testicular cancer in late 2019. He was 33. He already knew how terrible cancer could be; his nan had passed away from breast cancer three years earlier.
The diagnosis hit him and his family hard. And he says it just kept hitting him.
“You’re going to a party and you want to feel good and you want to talk and drink … and then you want to think, ‘I got cancer’.”
Amid the invasive tests, surgeries and chemo treatments, Tim says he quickly realized he needed the help he could get. He considered himself lucky to have the city on his side.
Ann says Mathoura is special like that.
“I do not know what other cities are like, I’m sure they stick together in times of need, but we certainly do here, that’s for sure,” she says.
For Tim, society and his nan were never far from his thoughts.
“[My nan] fought for it for six years and I went in with boxing gloves on, ready to slam the shit out of this, ”he says.
With the help of a team of doctors and chemo nurses, whom he describes as “very special people”, he did just that
In January 2021, after more than 12 months of treatment, Tim’s doctor told him he was cancer free.
After all the support from the local community and the Tim family, he decided to take the January trip to the doctors alone.
“I was not emotional there and then, but I got out of the car and before I could even call my mom or dad or anyone, I just sat in my car and cried,” he says.
“It was just the massive relief of me going to be alive,” he says.
Unfortunately, not everyone survives, but Sharnie says in Mathoura that it has not prevented people from giving back to society.
Some people they have supported have asked for donations for the bra fence instead of flowers.
“They have written it in their will, and have the donation box at the funeral,” she says.
“It’s just the community. These people, even at the height of their illness, are still thinking about how they can help others.”
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