NAIDOC Week celebrations of traditional arts and culture hold special meaning for Janine

As a proud Ngiyampaa woman and traditional owner here in Cobar, cultural things are very important to me. I feel a special connection to this year’s NAIDOC WEEK themed ‘Always Was, Always Will Be’ because reconnecting with my cultural heritage through art has been such a powerful part of my mental health recovery journey.

When I first started painting, back in 1997, art felt like something that just happened to me. Before experiencing mental health issues, I had never been artistic but creating my own take on traditional dot painting appealed to me as a way of working through painful thoughts and feelings. My early canvases were everyday household items such as placemats or wooden tissue boxes. I used a few pots of paint, applied with skewers and wanted to keep my artworks affordable for people to buy and enjoy.

Instead of using traditional designs, I’ve developed my own technique of layering dots on dots on dots which takes a great deal of patience. The process can be so mesmerising that I slip into a bit of a trance. Often, I’m surprised to see what comes together as I sit there painting. I was fortunate to receive an art grant in 1998 which led to a very successful showing of my work during the region’s 75th anniversary celebrations.

A highlight for me is decorating digeridoos. I don’t play them because, traditionally, only the men play these. My best work was a didge which took six weeks to complete and sold for around $2,000!  It’s a real showpiece. The inspiration for my next canvases will be ‘Be the change you want to see.”

Although I’m a positive person by nature, for most of my life I’ve experienced chronic depression.  The practical support I receive from my Flourish Australia Peer Worker Heidi, has made a big difference in my recovery.

When I first came back to Cobar 12 years ago I was self medicating with drugs and alcohol, following significant family tragedy. I had lost something of myself but with Flourish Australia alongside me, I grew strong in myself and started to think about what I wanted for my life. I learned that you need to tackle life challenges head-on and rediscovered that art helps me to stay on the straight and narrow.

A significant achievement for me was being asked by a linguist to produce some art for a “Ngiyampaa Word World” language dictionary. I came up with a design I call “Reawakening Ngiyampaa” which features the dotted outline of hands representing the Ngiyampaa people, larger white hands representing our ancestor spirits and 4-dotted designs for the four tribes that make up our nation, against a textured red background ,symbolising rich Ngiyampaa Country.

I’m proud to have played a part in preserving something of my people’s heritage by bringing my art to a book which will be used for teaching in schools. The experience inspired me to want to learn the language myself and pass that on to my sons and grandchildren.

As NAIDOC Week brings together First Nations people, everywhere, our history, struggles and achievements are recognised. It’s a time to gather in unity, sharing knowledge, languages and lives as we acknowledge past, present and future generations. I’m looking forward to joining our local community in coming together to celebrate and reflect on the many small ways we can each contribute to ensuring that what always was, always will be.