Making a connection through art

GRAND murals are opening a pathway to better health and wellbeing for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students of the Manning and Great Lakes region.

Proud of their work: LtoR Jameela Cochrane, Tamikah Browne, Charlie Martin, Matt McIntosh, Jacob Brown, Harley Williams, Austin Gainsford, Ronan Whyte, Josh Cochrane, Brittany Cochrane, Kyesha Clarke, Tyriel Mitchell, Khiaecia Martin, Uncle Russell Saunders, Benn Saunders and Damien Martin.

Proud of their work: LtoR Jameela Cochrane, Tamikah Browne, Charlie Martin, Matt McIntosh, Jacob Brown, Harley Williams, Austin Gainsford, Ronan Whyte, Josh Cochrane, Brittany Cochrane, Kyesha Clarke, Tyriel Mitchell, Khiaecia Martin, Uncle Russell Saunders, Benn Saunders and Damien Martin.

Each year, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students of our local high schools produce impressive works of art, two metres high and five metres long, capturing their visions of health and community.

In previous years, Taree High School, Chatham High School and Forster High produced murals around the ideas of caring for ourselves and the strength to be found in cooperation.

Mural number four, created by Taree High School, focuses on the concept of coming together with strength and harmony.

The studentsunveiled their masterpiece on Thursday (May 1).

"It's all about forging a connection between the health service, our Aboriginal medical services and teenagers," Aboriginal Health Education Officer Damien Martin said.

"Sometimes, young people have to make difficult choices and we want to spread the word that we're a safe place to come for help and health information."

The Taree Community Health team includes a range of Aboriginal health workers to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community members can access culturally appropriate support.

The artistic mentor of this year's mural is Taree High School's Benn Saunders and the project continues to flourish thanks to vital backup from the Taree Drug and Alcohol Clinical Service staff.

Benn worked with the students for about three months to brainstorm and deisgn the mural, before taking about one month to paint it.

All Aboriginal students from years seven to 11 were invited to participate in what Benn described as a "good journey".

"The art really does help us build a bridge. It's a good way to introduce our team at the Taree Drug and Alcohol Clinical Service," Damien said.

"The connections we make with young people can have all sorts of social benefits as well.

"Encouraging good lifestyle choices can help teens focus on their future."

Each mural is displayed for a year at the Community Health Centre, before it is returned to the school campus.

Including Aboriginal artwork at Hunter New England Health facilities is a key part of the organisation's commitment to Closing the Gap in health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

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