Drawing on rich stories

St Joseph's Primary student Angela next to the two-serpent artwork year 1 and 2 students created with artist N'Dene Riley. 365050_11 Picture: STEWART CHAMBERS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

First Nations artist N’dene Riley has left something enduring at St Joseph’s Primary School in Springvale.

Not only the stunning Reconciliation artworks made with such mastery by the students – their totem poles, serpents and mosaics filled with colour and story.

But the journeys for both artist and students will also live long beyond their 10 weeks together.

The process gave students the “courage” to be artists, Riley said. The chance to ask and learn about traditions from the Parrdarrama Pungenna and Six Rivers artist and teacher.

Inspired by her stories, Years 1 and 2 students made two giant serpents that met along the school’s windows.

Inside the serpents were the students’ personal indigenous symbols developed under Riley’s tutelage.

Meanwhile, Year 6 students created ’graduation’ mosaics that depicted a special memory, an experience of Aboriginality.

And the Preps relished the bright colours of Posca paint pens to decorate a stand of totem poles.

Riley’s art celebrates the pure experiences – the amazing ones that endure in a person’s memory, like watching a butterfly.

“Education tends to want to teach you something. You forget your experiences and remember so much of your education,“ Riley said.

“The older you get, the more you forget.”

In a parting letter, a student thanked her for “unlocking another memory”.

Through her art, Riley herself is unpacking memories as well as the trauma of only discovering her Aborginality eight years ago.

Her parents hail from two different tribes – Six Rivers in Tasmania’s north and Parrdarrama Pungenna in the island’s south.

Her mother was part of the Stolen Generation.

Meanwhile, Riley will continue sharing at more schools across Melbourne’s South East.

“It’s almost like a big gallery – you have a bit over here and a bit over there.”