Nyoongar Art at Chisholm Catholic College

02 Jun 2022

By Contributor

By Grace Feltoe

Chisholm college students in front of the mural.
Students and staff stand in front of the mural, result of their collaboration with local Aboriginal artist Linda Lee Loo who painted it. Photo: Supplied.

Chisholm Catholic College school values are Character, Learning and Compassion and, with these in mind, the school is promoting an environment for learning diversity, inclusiveness and reconciliation.

Inclusivity and sense of belonging are being forged for Aboriginal students and staff of the school through art. Two new artistic features, three totem poles and a painted mural, were newly presented on campus this term, done by current staff and local artists.

The three totem poles can be viewed outside the Graham Cooney Centre for Learning Diversity in the heart of the school. After development of the Reflective Space at the front of the school, in early 2021, this artistic project came to fruition.

Artwork on the totem poles was a collaboration between the college’s Aboriginal Liaison Officer, Emily Smith, and current Year 10 student, Shantaya Ryder.

Shantaya was inspired by her father, an Aboriginal artist whose work influenced her growing up and inspired two of the three totem pole artistic designs.

Shantaya Ryder, a Year 10 student, sits in front of the three totem poles she helped artistically design. Each one is a Nyoongar translation of one of the College’s values of Character, Learning and Compassion. Photo: Supplied.

Each totem pole represents one of the college values, with the Nyoongar translation on each – Walkoo (Character), Kadidjiny (Learning) and Koort (Compassion). Colours on the totem poles are also symbolic, representing the colours of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flag and that of the land and water.

Not only are the totem poles new on campus, but a mural was also completed this term. During the final term of last year, Linda Lee Loo, local artist of Linlelu Arts, was welcomed on campus by Aboriginal staff and students of the college, together with her husband, Bruce Loo, to design an art mural. The incursion for the couple was a day of collaboration, as everyone worked together to develop a draft representing what they wanted their story to be. Painted in the Aboriginal Education Office, students wanted the artwork to represent the college, Aboriginal Education Office and the significant location where the College is geographically positioned behind the Hillcrest Reserve.

Miss Amy McGuire, the college’s Aboriginal Liaison Officer, wrote, “They wanted the animals in the artwork to be meaningful and relevant. The use of love and friendship symbols represent the relationships formed through the Aboriginal Program and the school. Small gathering and yarning circles represent everyone coming together to learn and grow. Travel lines represent everyone travelling to and from the school, and the river and waterhole symbols represent the Derbarl Yerrigan (Swan River). The use of animal footprints is included to represent animals in the art but also how they are a food source. Elders are also represented as they are always looking over us and guiding us through life spiritually. Around the border of the mural are handprints of all Aboriginal Education students and Aboriginal and support staff, which represent the Indigenous and non-Indigenous community within the school and how they are all connected.”

Colours of the totem poles are representative of the colours of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flag and that of the land and water. Photo: Supplied.

These artistic endeavours of the college embrace an ethos that the Catholic Church maintains in its pursuit of being truly universal, with an acknowledgement of cultures and diverse peoples as stated in # 1879 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church: “The human person needs to live in society. Society is not for him an extraneous addition but a requirement of his nature. Through the exchange with others, mutual service and dialogue with his brethren, man develops his potential; he thus responds to his vocation”.

These projects also encouraged students and staff further in what college vision and mission statements highlight, that it wishes ‘individuals to realise their unique purpose’ and ‘[be] continually formed in order to find a place in a society characterised by skill’ while celebrating the diverseness of their community to create connections with one another and, for this particular occasion, at a very local level.

The students are very proud of their work and visit the office space regularly to see the mural they helped instigate with Linda.

Miss McGuire is very happy to have such local work on campus. “I love seeing all the Aboriginal art around the school. Being a proud Nyoongar yorga and part of a college which wants to have Aboriginal art all over the school is a great feeling. I’m looking forward to future projects we have for the Aboriginal Education Program,” she said.

Chisholm College Principal, Mr John Bormolini, was also proud of the current artistic movement. “This stunning showpiece of local Aboriginal story and culture will be joined by three further works during the months ahead and we’re proud of the message and connection to community that they convey.”

National Reconciliation Week runs from 27 May to 3 June.