Mural embraces the old and the new

During Reconciliation Week, Billy Kos visits a school that is creating inclusion and connection through art.

02 June 2021
A group of students with a teacher looking over an artwork.
Image: Many hands: Students work on the mural design.

Condell Park High School students collaborated with Aboriginal artist Allan McKenzie recently on a school mural that celebrates the power and beauty of Aboriginal culture and ancestral land.

Students from mainstream and the Autism Support Unit participated together to learn about dot painting, symbolism and how to incorporate contemporary elements using traditional painting methods.

The school’s art teacher, Nayomi Gribble, said the students and the school community were grateful for the opportunity to participate in the design of an Aboriginal contemporary artwork that would be an integral part of the school for generations of students to come.

“It was great to have Allan McKenzie motivate and encourage our students to be creative and to not be afraid of expressing themselves through art,” Ms Gribble said.

“With Allan’s guidance, the students were able to experience dot painting for the first time and created a design that was later incorporated into the large-scale, 3D mural.

“Students resonated with Allan as they are from diverse cultural backgrounds and understand how important it is to pay respects to Aboriginal culture and the land we stand on.

“This project created inclusion within the school.”

Allan McKenzie, a proud Bradbury Kamilaroi artist from Griffith NSW, said the mural symbolised the energy of the students and Aboriginal people in storytelling.

“The ‘u’ shapes in the mural represent people and the hand prints represent all the kids and the connections they have, not only to the school but also to the teachers and the foundation of the school,” Mr McKenzie said.

“I’ve injected a lot of bright colours and the reason why I do that is because I want to showcase a connection with the rainbow serpent.

“I have a really strong connection and love to use these vibrant colours in storytelling, which our people have used for thousands of years. It’s my way of paying respect to our peoples’ stories."

Image: Culture in colour: The completed mural.


Cam Ross, a year 7 Aboriginal student at Condell Park High School, said the experience gave them the opportunity to be a part of something that represented their culture.

“Culture is important, it’s our history,” Cam said.

“I also learned a lot about my own culture, it gave me confidence to be able to create art and use these symbols to communicate with my community and Aboriginal elders.

“What surprised me about the workshop was the artist’s colour pallet. McKenzie showed us that we can create traditional art that pays respect to our culture whilst using contemporary elements.”

Martin Thai in year 10 was also grateful for the opportunity to be a part of the design process.

“The workshop was valuable to me and it will stay with me forever,” Martin said.

“I really enjoyed looking at the similarities of Aboriginal culture to my Vietnamese culture. I am Vietnamese and we also use a lot of symbols in our artworks to show meaning and tell a story.

“McKenzie also gave a motivational speech, telling us to never let anyone get you down, and to believe in ourselves.”

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