• Samantha Wortelhock

The Ebb and Flow…


I’ve been busy in hot blustery conditions, doing what I love. I’ve needed to rest in any spare time (hence the tardy dispatch). The subjects of this blog are two projects, in the middle of which, I bundled the family and poodle cross in the car for a peaceful weekend away in The Promised Land. Gleniffer is a paradise wrapped in the arms of the Never Never River and a kiss away from the mid north coast’s idyllic village of Bellingen.

I trust in timing. Prior to the trip I spent a week painting a mural about cultural diversity at Tweed Heads Public School. The groundsman Jim was an exception to the school yard rule. A true teacher, he observed me and made practical suggestions that will make my job easier for many years to come. The best part is that Jim is also the groundsman at Tweed Heads South School where I’m presently painting the first of many murals. Human nature and relating to new personalities that I depend upon is a part of my job. I come across the cooperative, the uncooperative, the resentful, the opportunistic. But in Jim I see a man who sees me and the purpose of my work. It makes a huge difference when people care.

You’ll be hearing a lot about Tweed Heads South School. I have never felt more supported and trusted in a school and I’ve only just touched the surface. But I’m digressing because up the road is Tweed Heads Public School, where I was a few weeks’ ago before I dipped my toe into the Never Never.

The school has a rich mix of nationalities and, as should be the case in every First Nation, the Minjungbal People are honoured and their culture celebrated and encouraged as a part of the students’ learning. The mural is about harmony in diversity.

So, I present the first mural I’ve ever titled. It is called After The Lesson.

The image depicts a deciduous tree (because there is nothing more permanent than change). Perched on the branches are students and myriad birds. They have just been taught and are contemplating the stories shared by a Minjungbal Elder who has made a bark shield from the tree in which they rest. In the sand are ancient symbols that he has drawn and interpreted. The mural is very much about opening up and being at peace with difference. I hope students will recognise in the imagery that we ARE all different and in that truth there is no right or wrong.

I left that mural and headed for the Promised Land. It was following our first swim, late afternoon, in the Never Never that my son, glistening on a warm rock, declared, “Mum, they had the perfect world”. His words filled me with pride and joy. His deep empathy floated in my imagination and touched the underwater world I was to dive into for the next project.

Ballina’s Aboriginal Child and Family Centre is a seed I have to germinate for a very long time. I hold the Ballina Aboriginal community very dear to my heart. They have opened up to me and this blossoming is the result of nurturing the hand of friendship and trust over many seasons.

When Aunty Nita Roberts wrote to me it was a watershed moment. She asked for two murals in the hub of her community: a saltwater pool at the front entrance of the Centre and a freshwater pool (timing is everything thank you Never Never) located at the back of the building (where the community gathers and creates).

The true blessing of this project was being able to make contact and liase with so many family and community members who are clearly enjoying a thriving centre that is giving the best possible start to learning and growing for the children and to the health and wellbeing of families. It is a peaceful, happy, productive place. And one that extends that sense of family beyond boundaries of titles, names and, in my case, origins.

Every day brought something magical to the experience. There were stories; current and ancient, contributions that are manifest in the pools.

Uncle Digby Moran’s paintings will adorn the walls surrounding the saltwater rock pool. This is our first collaboration. We committed to work together months ago as a result of meetings I had with (and by invitation of) the Ballina Aboriginal Council to create public art murals with Digby that portray the Paradise that was enjoyed and well managed in Bundjalung Country pre-European settlement. We have had hopeful talks with business, community organisations and Council over the past year… I am proud to say that the inaugural project was initiated, financed and encouraged by the Ballina Aboriginal Child and Family Centre independently, efficiently and with a great deal of trust. I hope it will encourage the wider community to follow suit.

So, here are the two pools. They may be different and separated by a building, but they relate. Best of all, every child, parent, grandparent or visitor entering that space will walk on water, through footprints on sand and will float on the surface of a teeming saltwater rock pool before they walk through the doors and into the arms of people who care.

Thank you to JoJo for prepping and sealing the sites in her own time. She is ‘second in charge’ at the Childhood Centre (and boy is she taking care to prepare the little ones for school). Thank you Kris and Leeanne for helping me with my pesky sun protection gazebo each day. Thank you to every single person who wanted a yarn. Seeds have been planted and water is flowing. I treasured every single moment. There is a lot of love, under-recognised, worthy of trust and overdue respect and acknowledgment for the work in a Centre that had to fight to exist.

The tide is about to turn. And the energy is coming from within.

#TweedHeadsPublicSchool #culturaldiversity #mixofnationalities #FirstNation #MinjungbalPeople #AfterTheLesson #BallinaAboriginalcommunity #saltwaterpool #freshwaterpool #AuntyNitaRoberts #BundjalungCountry

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