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Inmate wins Aboriginal art prize

An inmate from Parklea Correctional Centre has won an Aboriginal art competition and his work will be used to help reunite people from the Stolen Generations.

The competition was held by Link-Up (NSW), which was founded in 1980 to assist all Aboriginal people who have been directly affected by past government policies, separated from their families and culture through forced removal, or been fostered, adopted or raised in institutions.

Link-Up (NSW) holds the Cooee Festival each year in Western Sydney to highlight its work and bring people together. Previously the organisation has used its own artwork to promote it, but this year they decided to seek new Indigenous talent to provide an opportunity for an Aboriginal artist to gain exposure and earn money for their work.

*Jack, a Barkandji Wiradjuri man, has been named as the winner and will receive a $1,000 prize for his painting, which will be used to promote the 2024 Cooee Festival via social media and on merchandise.

Link-Up (NSW) Marketing and Events Supervisor Jo-Ann Bird said they received 60 entries for the competition, which was whittled down to five, and the Elders from the organisation’s board chose Jack’s work as the winner.

“Jack’s painting was absolutely amazing and so detailed, it was just what we were looking for – the colours, the story, it was deadly,” Jo-Ann said.

Parklea Governor Wayne Taylor said it was very exciting for an inmate at Parklea to be recognised for their art in this way, and the win would have a positive impact on Jack’s confidence and self-esteem.

“Creative programs are an integral part of our education and reducing reoffending strategies, and we encourage inmates to take part in them, as they help to improve their mental health and wellbeing,” Governor Taylor said.

“The programs also give them something meaningful to do with their time and art allows people to express their feelings and creativity and it has a calming effect on them.

“Receiving this recognition will hopefully give Jack the confidence and encouragement he needs to continue with his art and perhaps explore this as a career option when he leaves prison.”

Inmates who participate in the art program are provided with equipment for free, and receive professional tutorials, help from specialised staff, and support from other inmates who act as peer mentors.

Jack’s love of art was sparked in 2006 after he participated in the Brush Up program at a juvenile facility. He then learned traditional Indigenous art techniques from an Elder and has continued to paint ever since.

He decided to enter the Link-Up (NSW) art competition after encouragement from Parklea’s Cultural Adviser.

Jack said he was happy and over the moon to win the prize, as it was the first time he’d won an art competition.

“It still hasn’t kicked in yet, as I’ve never achieved anything like this,” Jack said.

“My dad is really proud of me and that made me even more happy.

“Winning this has boosted my confidence and I now want to keep painting.”

Jack spent two weeks solidly working on the piece, which is a message about the importance of learning culture from Elders to keep it strong.

He said the footprints in the middle of the painting represented a pathway for Indigenous youth and young adults to follow to learn culture, such as dance, ceremonies and corroborees. The yellow ochres represent landscapes, rocks, mountains, sand and dirt and Elders teaching young men. The red and brown ochres represent women teaching young women culture, dance and ceremonies.

“All Indigenous art has a story behind it and I used my skills to tell it,” Jack said.

“Following in the footsteps of Elders is a very important thing for any Aboriginal Indigenous person.

“We need to keep doing these practices daily, weekly, monthly, and yearly to keep the culture strong.”

*Name has been changed.