Monaro art workshops promote conversations about caring for Country during NAIDOC Week

To celebrate NAIDOC week, the NSW Government Saving our Species program and Snowy Monaro Regional Council partnered with Aboriginal artist Gail Neuss to run a series of art workshops across the Monaro region.

Participants in the Monaro art workshop, NAIDOC Week 2023

NSW Department of Planning and Environment Community Engagement Officer Melanie Sim said the workshops brought wonderful groups of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people together to create art and talk about caring for Country.

'In Cooma and Michelago, local women were invited to paint their impressions of the Monaro, with photos of local threatened species, including the earless dragon and mauve burr-daisy, on the walls around them to inspire ideas,' said Ms Sim.

Artist Gail Neuss was delighted by the success of the workshops.

'We had a really fabulous turnout. 91-year-old Elaine, a proud Wiradjuri woman, attended the workshop with four generations of her family,' said Ms Neuss.

'As this year’s NAIDOC theme was "For Our Elders", I really wanted to honour Elaine, so I presented her with one of my screen-printed blankets. It’s so important to care for our Elders and to listen to them,' said Ms Neuss.

While the women painted, Gail talked about the landscape, her connection to the Monaro as a Ngarigo woman and guided a deep conversation around Aboriginal culture.

'It was really insightful, with lots of different perspectives and I can see that people really want to learn about Aboriginal culture,” said Ms Neuss.
At the workshop in Jindabyne, Gail read stories to a group of children and their parents, showed them her traditional kangaroo cloak and other local artefacts.

'Each child chose a stick that had been collected from the ground on Ngarigo country and, using leftover wool donated from passionate knitters, decorated a Yarning stick,' said Ms Neuss.

'I was so impressed that the kids then created a storyline from their sticks. One boy explained how the colours represented different parts of nature, and another made a Warrior stick to tell the story of wombats on his farm,' said Ms Neuss.

'These workshops ended up being more than just about making art. It was a wonderful way for us at the DPE to connect with Gail as an artist as well as locals from the Monaro and the fantastic Council staff who helped organise the events,' said Ms Sim.

'From elders to kids, these workshops were a beautiful way for us to meet with each other and have important conversations about caring for Country.

'It’s our hope that these conversations can continue, with future Saving our Species conservation work supported by local Aboriginal custodians sharing their cultural knowledge of the Monaro landscape and the threatened species that make it special,' said Ms Sim.

Images in Dropbox