Image Credit: Kaielthriban Country River Red Gums. Photograph by Brent Lukey

Connecting to Country, From our Home to Yours is your region-by-region guide to some of the most dynamic Art Centres and incredible artists working in Indigenous communities across the country.

Today, we explore the thriving South East.

By Camilla Wagstaff

Where are we?


You may well be familiar with the deeply moving contemporary acrylic paintings of the Central and Western Desert. Or the intricate cross-hatching works from Arnhem Land. Even the bold and bright Ghost Net works of Far North Queensland and beyond. What you might not realise is that there are thriving First Nations communities and artistic practitioners operating outside these more well-known regions.

Many of them you’ll find in the fertile floodplains, lush eucalypts and majestic peninsulas of Victoria. Others work to keep County and culture alive in Tasmania, boasting divine alpine regions, rugged coastlines and ancient forests. Artists here are skilled in a range of techniques including jewelry making, painting, weaving, ceramics, textile work and wearable art. Palettes often reflect the more cinematically muted hues of the cooler climates common here – think lush greens and browns, deep blues and deep ochres.

The South East is home to a handful of dynamic Art Centres, which you can catch at DAAF 2020. Art Centres are in themselves celebrations of community, culture and Country. These professional art making studios work to empower Indigenous practitioners in the ethical production and sale of their work. They are a key part of community life, fostering Aboriginal identity, encouraging artistic practice, and providing a platform whereby younger generations can work with and learn from community elders. 

Perhaps most importantly, Art Centres provide a gateway to explore, understand, buy, share and exhibit Indigenous art. When you buy an artwork from a reputable Art Centre, you can guarantee those funds going back to the artist, with a smaller portion being invested back into the Centre for operational costs and wider community programs.


Art Centres to explore…


Baluk Arts


Baluk, also spelt balluk or balug, is a Boonwurrung word meaning “group of people”. Based in Mornington, Victoria, Baluk artists are from diverse Aboriginal backgrounds and hail from all over Australia. Baluk Arts encourages strong artistic practices reflecting themes of identity in a contemporary context, helping support cultural and creative well-being. Its mission extends to its support for community development, youth leadership, and participation and interaction through innovative arts practice.


Kaiela Arts


Kaiela Arts is located in Shepparton, regional Victoria, residing on the lands of the Kaielthban of the Yorta Yorta. Kaiela Arts works with more than 80 artists from the Kaiela Dungala (Goulburn Murray) region and is an important space for artists and the community to connect with art practice in the South East. The Centre provides training and actively promotes the south-eastern linear art styles traditional to the Kaiela Dungala region. Many of its artists have won awards and have been exhibited around Victoria.

Image Credit: Eric Brown, Global Future The River, Charcoal and Water, 720 x 915 x 20mm, 2020, Photo credit Maddisyn Cooper


Nayir Niara


Nayir Niara is a social enterprise in lurtawita Tasmania, which seeks to create good spirit through connection to culture, Country, community, the self and the sacred. Nayri Niara programs unite ancient practices with modern innovation, with a core foundation to enliven and First Nations cultural expression. The Art Centre’s projects include the LongHouse Gallery and Event Space; the Home HEARTh Market; Under the Surface Forums; the Nayri Niara good spirit Festival; events, arts and tourism sector training and a youth internships program.



Artists to look for at DAAF 2020…


Ashleigh Pugh

Showing with: Baluk Arts

Ashleigh Pugh is a young self taught painter who, since joining Baluk Arts, has proven herself to be a multi-skilled interdisciplinary artist, with a deep love of the coast and the materials she finds there. She combines shells and other precious natural artefacts with silver in jewellery and adorns cultural objects such as music sticks with images of life on the Peninsula.

Image Credit: Ashleigh Pugh, Peninsula Landscape, Pyrography and acrylic paint on board, 30 x 40 cm, 2020, Photo courtesy of Baluk Arts.


Suzanne Cynthia Hardie

Showing with: Kaiela Arts

Cynthia was born and raised in Mooroopna and over the years has filled her home with her beautiful creations. Reluctant to part with anything, she says her home is almost full to the rafters.  There isn’t anything Cynthia won’t try. Her paintings adorn canvas, rocks, emu eggs, timber, papier-mâché bowls, clap sticks, boomerangs, anything she can get her hands on and often more than one thing at a time. More recently Cynthia added ceramics to her repertoire. Her love of art and craft began as a child and has continued throughout her life. Mostly self-taught, she enjoys teaching her granddaughters how to paint, sharing her art supplies and painting small canvases and boomerangs. It’s great to share her love of painting with them. 

Cynthia recollects her childhood growing up on The River, playing on the bank and observing the wildlife on the flats. She draws from these memories and fondness for the area when she creates her art.

Image Credit: Auntie Cynthia Hardie, Woven Basket, Raffia, Gum Nut and Emu Feathers, H-90mm x W-150mm, 2020, Photo credit Maddisyn Cooper


Fiona Maher

Showing with: Nayir Niara

Nature is a major source of inspiration for many artists, but for Tasmanian Aboriginal artist Fiona Maher, it is more than inspiration, it is where she sources her materials from.

Fiona first learnt basket making at a ‘sit in’ at Rocky Cape. Along with many other members of the Tasmanian Aboriginal Community, Fiona returned to Country to reclaim the land, and learnt traditional crafts such as basket weaving while camping out.

“The fibre work really appealed to me as it is a natural resource from our land and something we can do in different places, as grass is almost always there. It is a craft that moves with you. We use all native grasses. I’ve just started working in kelp and really enjoy moulding nature. Creating art for me is about sharing my identity. I hope people will be inspired by connecting with their land. Through the political struggle in reclaiming our Land, I reconnected with my culture.”

Image: Nayir Niara Featured Artists Fiona Maher pictured on Country, photo by Graham G.