Young Indigenous Artist Award

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Inspired by the recent artwork commission and collaboration between St Clare’s High School, its students and the Health Hub Taree to commission an artwork with cultural significance, Helen Holliday and the Health Hub Taree and Harrington has launched an annual “Emerging Young Indigenous Artist Award”, which is to be awarded to the student for outstanding achievements and commitments to their work in art.

Hi Helen. Congratulations on the recent launch of the Health Hub here in Taree. This was a project very close to your heart. How does it feel to now see it come to fruition?

For Simon and I, seeing the results of our hard work and planning for stage one of our medical practice is both rewarding and energising. This project will be an ongoing one, developing and progressing as the community grows and changes.

Tell us a little about the design concept of the Hub and what you were aiming to portray?

Our design vision was to create a homely, more relaxing space in our waiting areas, by including a warm colour palette with our seating fabrics, seating pods with sofas, comfy wing chairs, coffee tables, and a range of different chairs and benches. Our builders created a long padded bespoke bench for the kids to stretch out and rest on or on which to use their devices. There are tables for people to sit around in family or friendship groups for a catch up if need be. There is also a corner kids’ space for drawing and playing (under gorgeous fairy lights). 

Thanks to our designer, Amanda from Gather and Place, we have been able to provide a comfortable, welcoming, calming and visually beautiful space in which to accommodate our patients, and for our staff and doctors to work together in.

While designing the Health Hub, you commissioned four Indigenous students from St Clare’s High School Taree to create the mural artwork which now hangs proudly as an amazing focal point in the waiting room. Can you tell us a little more about how this came about?

Our artwork was painted by Kartika, Brooke, Ella, Jade (and Finlay, who painted an individual work) who are all students at St.Clare’s High School, Taree. Our boys are both ex-students of the school, and we have always appreciated the love, care and support for the arts and Indigenous culture by the teachers and the executive staff there. We felt that by commissioning an artwork of cultural significance, encompassing wellbeing and connection to the community by the students, we could support and encourage further development and acknowledgement of culture in both the school environment and beyond. 

I have Indigenous heritage and feel very strongly about our need to reconnect with our environment spiritually, physically, and artistically in order to promote health and wellbeing for all people.

Collaborating with St Clare’s High School and their students was so well received, that you have now decided to offer an annual Indigenous Art Scholarship. How will this encourage and benefit students?

Collaborating with the St. Clare’s students was a mutually positive and healing experience. Through the care and encouragement of their support teacher Chris Beal, the students were able to learn about their totems and began to tap into the stories of the Biripi here in the Manning. 

I was then invited by the school during NAIDOC week to speak bout my great grandmother’s story and my family’s discovery of our Indigenous heritage. During that speech, I was also able to talk about the need for Indigenous recognition within the Constitution and the importance of following through with the conditions put forward in the Uluru Statement. Uncle Will and Aunty Wilma were also present on that day, and both of them connected beautifully with all of the students and teachers at the school. 

There is such a strong respect and acknowledgement of all of the Aboriginal leaders here in this community. I personally feel that because of Australia’s difficult past, so many of us have been left not knowing about our ancestry. I discovered 10 years ago that my Great-Great-Grandma was a Cabrogal woman, from the Georges River in Liverpool. Lucy had married an English farmer named William Leane, and they raised 13 children on their flourishing farm. She was able to hold on to country during the late Eighteenth Century in a very unique way, being able to fish and gather food traditionally, as well as having a basic education and help to run a vineyard and orchards. She was able to pass through into settler society whilst maintaining her culture. She also lobbied the colonial government for both recognition and for the acquisition of a boat to transport produce up and down the river, so that she could provide employment.

Lucy’s handwritten letter was printed in the book Rivers and Resilience (Goodall and Cadzow). Lucy was one of many activists seeking rights and recognition at this time. She was denied the use of a boat; however, she remained committed to her community and family until her death. The Leane family held on to their land until 1925. Australia had by that time become a place of hardship, racism and stolen children. That’s when I believe that parts of the Leane family silenced their stories of heritage and lost their connection to country. I have found healing and inspiration from the discovery of my beautiful ancestor and feel empowered through greater knowledge of her story. 

Both Simon and I hope that by providing the St. Clare’s Emerging Young Indigenous Artists Award as an annual prize, the students may feel inspired and encouraged to participate in further art and cultural studies, to create beauty, and to reconnect with their traditional stories and history. Our hope for them is that they will find resilience, strength, healing and a connection to country.

This is only the beginning for the scholarship and the Health Hub. Can you share some of your dreams and aspirations for these in the near future?

Our future hopes and dreams include building a yarning room in phase two of our renovation, so that we can extend hospitality to our Aunties, Indigenous counselling groups and other community groups for their use in planning, meeting, or in just supporting each other over a cuppa and chat. 

We are also hoping to then be able to accommodate more allied health professionals with some extra consulting rooms. 

All in all, we hope to maintain our commitment to good health care for everybody and to continue to learn from, acknowledge and support our traditional custodians.

Thanks, Helen.

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