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Adelaide River's biodiversity slow-stitched into a community quilt by more than 80 women

Indigo artist Meng Hoeschle hosted sessions at her studio to dye the quilt fabric. (ABC News: Felicity James)

Local artists Meng Hoeschle and Pam Hefner met at night school in the 1980s and have been friends ever since.

The pair work together in Darwin's rural region and are among more than 80 women who have spent months slow-stitching a community quilt with a message.

"Neither of us are quilters," Ms Hefner said.

"The actual technique, slow-stitching, you don't have to have a lot of skills to do it well."

Creations by Meng Hoeschle and Pam Hefner inspired the use of indigo in the quilt. (ABC News: Felicity James)
The community quilt is now hanging in an aquarium at a wildlife park. (ABC News: Felicity James)

The quilt depicts the animals, plants and biodiversity found in the Northern Territory's iconic Adelaide River system, which is best known for its crocodiles.

The river is almost 240 kilometres long and flows through several Top End regions, including floodplains on Limilngan-Wulna land.

Before the stitching began, each participant was given a list of plant, fish and animal species along with several pieces of recycled calico dyed with indigo to represent water.

Recycled mealworm bags were dyed and used as fabric for the quilt. (ABC News: Felicity James)
Meng Hoeschle and Pam Hefner met at art school in the 1980s. (ABC News: Felicity James)

In her quilt piece, Ms Hoeschle used beads to stitch a native fig tree, popular with birds, and incorporated an old fishing net and bones she had collected.

"On the river there was a piece of fishing net I picked up many, many years ago when I was working at Wadeye."

"There are lots of bones in the river if you do dredge it, so that's what I was trying to do."

"Learning about the river is amazing, how beautiful it is – I never knew the Adelaide River was that long, I never knew about the wildlife and especially the habitat."

Meng Hoeschle stitched netting, beads and bones into her piece of cloth. (Supplied: Jasmine Jan)

Behind the scenes has been local artist Jasmine Jan, who has created this community art project and others for the Territory Wildlife Park, where the quilt now hangs.

"A lot of these projects we do with some sort of conservation message or some sort of educational purpose and this one was raising awareness about the Adelaide River system," she said.

"It's not just about crocodiles."

Jasmine Jan and Barbara Williams worked together to design the final layout. (ABC News: Felicity James)
Nat Vidgen stitched a flying fox or fruit bat into her piece named 'Sweet Dreams'. (Supplied: Jasmine Jan)

The final quilt was recently launched to a huge crowd of women, who inspected their contributions stitched together for the first time.

"I knew they would be blown away by it," Ms Jan said.

"I like the idea that a quilt is something you use to keep you warm and it's a comforting thing, and I like the idea that everybody's put a little piece of themselves into this quilt."

The project began in October last year and many of the pieces have been stitched in isolation at people's homes during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Women were given a list of river system species to inspire their stitching. (ABC News: Felicity James)
Participants lined up to take photos of their contribution to the quilt. (ABC News: Felicity James)

"It's almost like a cyber community I think – you might not be physically all together but you're all emotionally going on this journey together, being part of something bigger," Ms Jan said.

Barbara Williams is a building surveyor and her technical drawing skills also happen to be perfect for quilting.

She was responsible for planning out and constructing the quilt.

"This is my drafting skills going way back, so actually putting quilts together and that sort of thing is natural to me," Ms Williams said.

The arrangement of the quilt blocks was meticulously planned. (ABC News: Felicity James)
Barbara Williams sketched the original plan for the quilt. (ABC News: Felicity James)
The quilt was based on an aerial image of the Adelaide River. (Google Earth)

"Throughout all this, every single piece I looked at was a masterpiece."

"What people have produced at the end of the day has blown us away completely."

Ms Williams lives at Bee's Creek, a region in Darwin's rural outskirts.

"This is a large river that's in our backyard and most people only know it for the crocodile jumping or the Adelaide River township," she said.

Daniela Eugster stitched a blue swimmer crab into her quilt piece. (Supplied: Jasmine Jan)

"It has an amazing wetlands during the wet season, which blends with the Mary River and is amazing for birdlife."

She said working with such a diverse group of women across Darwin's rural and urban regions – some who had never produced an art piece before – was personally rewarding.

"It's just knowing people's stories and the reason why they've come to do the art and craft work," Ms Williams said.

The quilt now has a home at the Territory Wildlife Park aquarium. (ABC News: Felicity James)
At an exhibit launch women involved had their first look at the final quilt. (ABC News: Felicity James)

"Each one of these little pieces that make up this quilt is a journey."

Ms Jan said Ms William's elaborate plan for the quilt took her by surprise.

"She whips out this big plan, which has got all the quilt sketched up and all the dimensions and she's worked out how big the blocks have got to be," she said.

"I'm just sitting there gobsmacked, thinking oh my goodness she's done all that technical construction work for me."

Leanne Lamb stitched an archer fish using a jet of water to catch an insect. (Supplied: Jasmine Jan)

"It's amazing working with Barbara, because she has that ability not only in the construction industry but also in crafts."

The quilt was also given a special metal vine hanger with a kingfisher sculpture, constructed and designed by local artists Peter Jettner and Troya Bywaters.

Ms Jan said sewing skills had not previously been among her artistic talents but she now also enjoyed slow-stitching.

"I might come home from work when I'm really stressed, I just get my slow stitch and I just sit there and start stitching and it actually is quite meditative," she said.

"You actually relax and I think it's quite a stress release."

Meng Hoeschle and Pam Hefner each stitched a block for the river quilt. (ABC News: Felicity James)
Barbara Mellon stitched pandanus and their red seed pods. (Supplied: Jasmine Jan)
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