Knitting nannas to free children from detention

In a world where older women are invisible, there’s a group of grandmothers who have taken to the streets with coloured wool and knitting needles.

Desperately concerned about the welfare of children in detention centres, three Hobart women started meeting and ended up knitting.

This Girl spoke with Pauline ‘Polly’ Shelly, one of the conveners of the Tassie Nannas about how these good women were speaking up about Australia’s asylum seeker policy.

Almost three years ago, Polly, Anne and Trish convened a group called the Tassie Nannas. They wanted to do more than just write to politicians.


“We decided to take to the streets with our knitting needles as a way to be really visible.”

“It’s that often quoted saying ‘…the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing’. We had to do something.”

Knitting and nannas have connotations of warmth, nurturing and security.

“They are all the things our Government is not providing to the people who have sought refuge on our shores,” Polly said.

As grandparents, they are focused on children because see the plight of refugees held in detention through the eyes of their own grandchildren.

kg-1“There are children on Nauru who are three years old. They were born in detention. It’s appalling,” Polly said.

Tassie Nannas knits blankets for refugees who come to Tasmania. They also knit little Muslim dolls.

“They are faceless dolls like the faceless children in the centres. We’ve sent some to Nauru, we give them to children and we use them to yarn bomb politicians with messages around their necks,” Polly said.

Every Friday you’ll find the Tassie Nannas and friends knitting in Hobart’s Elizabeth Street mall between 11 am and 1 pm. People stop and have a look because they’re attracted by the colourful blankets.

“We’ve found that the only way for people to be prepared to listen and change their views is to have direct contact with people. Talking with people and asking them to empathise and think about their families and what they would do in these circumstance is important.”

kg-4“We’ve been really well received but regardless of how people feel about the issue of refugees and immigrants generally there is a lot of support for the idea that it’s wrong to lock up families in off shore detention camps potentially indefinitely. So we sit here and knit. Today an Iraqi woman came up and took a blanket for one of her two year old twins and she says she’ll come back and learn how to knit and bring other refugees with her,” Polly said.

There are a 100 nannas on the books and now there’s a spin off group called the North West Knitting Nannas who knit in the Hub arcade, Devonport, on Thursdays. A group of grandmothers in Oatlands has recently contacted them too.

Tassie Nannas will continue to knit and talk to people, encouraging change, one stitch and one conversation at a time. They have a social media presence and they have guest knitters, 20 or 30 prominent Tasmanians have joined in and knitted with them at various times. They also took part in the Grandmother’s Freedom Ride to Canberra, storming Parliament House.

“We visited a lot of politicians and found they’re a little bit scared of grandmothers on mass. We left them with dolls with messages,” Polly said.

They are currently taking small delegations to each of the Tasmanian Federal politicians.

“We’re asking them to think about it from the point of view as people not politicians because deep down most people want to do good. We’re asking them simply to do what they can do in caucus, to be a force for change.”


“We’re asking that they take a bipartisan approach to the issue. As long as asylum seekers and refugees are a political issue they will be used as a political pawn. Immigration was bipartisan up until the Tampa affair in 2001. The only way things are going to change is if a bipartisan approach is taken. If this wasn’t a political issue we’d have a solution for asylum seekers by now,” Polly said.

If you want to know how you can help the Tassie Nannas with their cause this is what they suggest:

  1. Ring, write or email politicians.
  2. Write to your local newspaper.
  3. Talk to people you know about the issues to raise awareness and encourage them to help too.
  4. Keep up-to-date with the issues.
  5. Start knitting – join in on Fridays and if you don’t know how they’ll teach you!
  6. Donate wool or colourful knitted squares 11 x 11 cm cast on about 24 stitches. They use 8-ply wool and 4 mm needles (old size 8).

Tassie Nannas knit on Fridays, 11 am – 1 pm in the Elizabeth Street mall (Liverpool Street end).

You can email them at

Find Tassie Nannas on Facebook – Tassie Nannas

Their sister group is the North West Coast Tassie Nannas.


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