Chris Beal, local Aboriginal Education Teacher at St Clare’s High School, is passionate about inspiring and sharing his knowledge with his students to help grow their connection to all aspects of existence. He has helped his students refine their naturally gifted selves to create artworks which are now being shared within the wider community.
Please introduce yourself and share a little about your role within the school.
I am the Aboriginal Education Teacher with responsibility for Community Liaison. I am of Aboriginal descent, and I’m passionate about preserving, celebrating and passing on the riches of Indigenous culture to both Indigenous and Non-Indigenous people. We have one of the oldest and richest systems of spirituality, philosophy, education and environmentalism on the planet right in our midst, and many of us don’t know or haven’t been shown this truth.
I also teach Indigenous art, and it’s great to see students who have never painted before quickly becoming proficient artists. It’s innate.
With the recent opening of the Health Hub here in Taree, four of your students from St. Clare’s High School were commissioned to create the amazing mural that hangs proudly in the new premises. Tell us what this meant for you all.
The Aboriginal Studies Class of St. Clare’s High School – Taree produced the mural in the new Health Hub with my supervision. The students are Kartika Donovan, Ella Lees, Jade Page, Finlay O’Connell and Brooke Taylor, all from Year 10. After just 18 months, these students are producing artworks of a professional standard. They are naturally gifted, and I have simply focused their own talents.
The students told me they found the experience very rewarding and a strong spiritual experience. They have put their own hearts, minds and spirits into the work.
Can you share the story and cultural significance of the mural that was created?
Traditional Aboriginal people see the human in this way: firstly spiritual, secondly emotional, and thirdly physical. Many Aboriginal people believe that when our spirit is unwell, then our emotional life will be unwell and that these afflictions will then be evidenced in our physical body. They see that these aspects of our being and existence are all interconnected and make us a sacred being, alongside other sacred beings on this sacred earth.
Connection is a very important word and experience for Aboriginal people. And, all of us are quickly losing connection with each other and the earth, to the detriment of all. Aboriginal wisdom has much to offer us here in their emphasis on connection, belonging, relationship, earth and the spiritual nature of existence. This belief system was not invented yesterday, but has been developed, tried, tested and refined over millennia.
The mural depicts humans, symbolised by footprints, as intrinsically connected to all of the ecosystems and fauna and flora of the region. The humans and animals are connected with streams of water and circles of earth. The truth of the painting is that when we begin to heal the connection between all things, then we will begin to heal all things.
The Health Hub shares this vision of health through its rich and varied offerings of health care, spiritual, emotional and physical. A great gift to Taree.
The collaboration was so inspiring; the Health Hub has decided to offer an annual Emerging Young Indigenous Artist Award to students at St Clare’s High School as an acknowledgment of culture. What will this mean for the student who receives this award?
The award is a cash prize of $500 given annually, and it will be an enormous encouragement to an emerging young Indigenous artist in the region. Some of our students have already sold a number of their works to people in the Taree community.
What will be required to participate in the running of the award?
The students will need to demonstrate over the course of the year commitment to improving their techniques and methods, skill in completion of works and an enthusiasm to continue to develop their art skills. They must also demonstrate a preparedness to work on their artworks outside of class time.
Has participating in the commission inspired you to further develop cultural Indigenous art offered within the school and the wider community?
Most definitely. St. Clare’s has been most encouraging of local Indigenous students and people over many decades, demonstrating a commitment to celebrating, respecting and passing on culture, as well as enabling Indigenous students to get the best education available to them. The school has student art on display around the school, and students recently contributed to the Biripi Shark mural on the wall of the TIDE building in the Main Street of Taree.
The art program builds the students’ self-esteem and sense of achievement, whilst enabling them to engage in cultural activities, and thus promotes their spiritual, emotional and physical health.
Is there anything further you would like to add?
I am deeply proud to be of Australian Aboriginal descent. It is a treasure in my life worth more than any amount of money or gold. It is the essence and foundation of my existence and sense of identity. It is essential to my sense of who I am. It sustains me spiritually, emotionally and physically for my journey through this world and into the Dreaming. It connects me to life.