One third of Ballina Public School children are Aboriginal. I can happily report that not once have I heard a racist remark ... (I have painted the toilet blocks and heard hilarious mutterings via extraction vents but I'll spare you ... )
These were hard yards when I painted the first of eight murals. Often a student would be wandering out of class, feeling like they belonged elsewhere (and in some cases they likely do ... School is prescriptive and can be a bitter pill for some). Always 'on to it' the teachers and Principal used gentle but firm encouragement back to class. One serial stand out, with permission, spent time each day with me. He painted, we talked. His heart was in Wilcannia with his grandfather on a river fishing. This was a bright boy who knew what to do with paint and knew how to tell a compelling story. His time with me was not wasted. He has moved away now but his teacher told me that before he left he had settled into class and was enjoying school.
Family defines indigenous culture and Ballina Public has family qualities. Some of my favourite teachers and staff work here and have become life long friends. Mutual respect, inclusion and authenticity are healthy attributes vital for the harmony that exists here.
The murals are visual proof that what matters is the students' quality of life within the institutional facade. The latest addition is a beach cafe because the school has a breakfast club that fuels their bodies and minds before feeding them facts. Ballina is home of The Big Prawn, so I thought it apt to name the cafe The Shrimp Shack.
I took the liberty of painting Principal Peter Flannery and Sam in the office as customers and my beloved Mrs O serving behind the counter ... A sample of the staff who take such good care of them.