Design students bring signs of hope to small community

New Killabakh Sign | Bushfires 2019 2020 | Torrens University |Billy Blue College of Design

A special Torrens University project led by design staff and students has lifted high the spirits of a small Australian town through the reimagination of its signage.

Killabakh is a historic village located on the mid north coast of NSW, attracting many visitors to its waterfalls and beautiful farmland views. The community, of nearly 300, is now enjoying brand new signage thanks to some great work by our students who responded in the aftermath of the 2019/20 bushfires.

The Killabakh bushfires

After two years of relentless drought in 2018 and 2019, bushfires tore through the town for 10 days. With only two fire-fighting vehicles, the fires pushed even the most experienced of the town’s volunteer firefighters to exhaustion, and many Killabakhians were forced to stay and fight.

One of the Killabakhians was Shannon Revell, our Work Integrated Learning Contracts & Support Coordinator at Torrens University. He joined his community to help contain the fires – and at one-point experienced smoke inhalation that was nearly fatal.

Killabakh is special to Shannon.

“It’s where I met and married my wife. It was actually my wedding anniversary when the fires got hectic,” Shannon said.

On ‘Black Tuesday’, November 12, 2019, 9 homes were destroyed and significant damage caused to many others.

Anna Axisa, Killabakh Community Association Vice President said everyone rallied to help.

“Throughout this unspeakable disaster, our neighbours and friends' unbelievable display of community spirit was an experience we will never forget,” Anna said.

Connecting Torrens University to Killabakh

Shannon recalled the fires at One Torrens Summit in Adelaide February 2020, alongside other staff members who were intimately involved with the east coast fires that summer. 

He explained how the community hall - the heart and soul of the village - narrowly escaped destruction, but the beloved welcome sign was burnt, which became a constant reminder of the bushfires that swept through the area. An additional sign responsible for broadcasting local news and information to an aging population had been heavily vandalised. 

In response to this, a commitment was made at the Summit to replace the signs through a student Work Integrated Learning project.

Damaged Killabakh Log Sign | Bushfires 2019 2020 | Torrens University |Billy Blue College of Design

Nathan Scoular, Program Director, Graphic and Communication Design at Torrens University, says the project allowed students to see that good design can solve an immediate problem but also helped uncover and address bigger, more meaningful issues at the same time.

“The initial design brief for this project may have been about designing a small sign for a small country town but the end result was something much bigger both for our students and the Killabakh community,” Nathan said.

Collaboration, identity and purpose

The Killabakh Community Association worked with Matt Epple, Torrens University Learning Facilitator – Academic Coordinator, and the signs became the focus of a Communication Design Typographic Systems class for our Brisbane Billy Blue College of Design students.

The reimagined identity brief Matt and his students were provided was to uphold the history, values and character of the town whilst reimagining the identity, with a fresh, modern approach.

Matt says that his students are largely motivated by and engaged with social benefit projects.

“In the end it was less about the sign and more around connecting people through their shared experience and identity,” said Matt.

“Too often our immediate response is to emphasise the way something looks; distilling a piece of design work down to aesthetic qualities alone, “says Nathan. “But good design goes deeper than just a visual veneer.”

Lauren Hughes' designs were chosen, from ten student submissions, and she continued to work with Matt to finesse, respond to requests, participate in production, and to complete the final installation.

Lauren, who completed her Bachelor of Communication Design in November 2020, said working with a real client allowed her to experience the nuances of the client and designer relationship, and “understand their unique needs.”

New Killabakh Sign | Bushfires 2019 2020 | Torrens University | Lauren Hughes | Billy Blue College of Design

Coming full circle

Fast forward to July 2021, a large ‘Welcome to Killabakh sign’ now proudly greets residents and visitors at the entry to town featuring ‘slide-in’ announcement panels displaying regular meetings and engagements.

“This is a valuable resource in letting community members know what is happening in the village, especially for those who aren't online,” said Anna.

“The grass is green again, and the proud members of the Killabakh community are thrilled with the new and improved signage!” said Anna offering a massive thanks to Torrens University and all involved.

“They’re beautiful, really nice and fit in well,” said Shannon about the new signage.

“It was great to have been the conduit between the city and the country.” Shannon became a member of the Killabakh Rural Fire Service in November 2020.

Shannon Revell | Killabakh Rural Fire Service | Bushfires 2019 2020 | Torrens University

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