To celebrate the International Day of Disability, Flagstaff Group unveiled its new cultural mural in North Nowra on Wednesday.
Bomaderry High, Shoalhaven High, Havenlee and Nowra High students joined Flagstaff School Leaver Employment Support participants to create the eight-metre-long, four-panelled mural.
Flagstaff support worker Jono Donald said young people with disabilities who often have a short attention span in the classroom were captivated by the work they did on the mural.
“They make their own decisions on the project, and they’d sit there painting for two and a half hours,” he said.
"They wouldn’t move, they were deeply engaged.”
When asked, Flagstaff School Leaver Employment Support program participant and Wadi Wadi descendant James Dumas, 19, agreed to work on the project in a heartbeat.
“By myself painting, it’s like dancing with my hands,” James said.
“I can let my creativity explode.”
James was honoured to lead the Welcome to Country at the mural’s unveiling on Wednesday, his first opportunity to do so.
The year-long project started in February and so it was rewarding for all involved to unveil the mural on Wednesday.
Jono said the experience was invaluable for young people involved.
“It helped them come together as friends and work together as a team,” he said.
The mural depicts an aerial view of the Shoalhaven River.
“Water is what links a lot of people together in the Shoalhaven, I think we’re water people,” Jono said.
Each school adopted a panel focusing on local aquatic, bird life, reptiles and nocturnal animals. Students learned about dreamtime, local flora, fauna and threatened species.
The mural was created as a cultural wall of collaboration that aims to welcome visitors and provide a peaceful area of reflection. The mural combined cultural awareness and traditional artwork to build purpose and meaning to the garden area, while teaching students different painting techniques.
“It’s on site, in the zen garden to beautify the area on a big, ugly shipping container,” Jono said.
“The area is used as a breakaway zone. If someone is having a bad day, they go down there and have a break from it all.”
The project was guided by Indigenous artist, Adrian Smith, guest art facilitator and combined storytelling with learning traditional cultural art techniques whilst painting the local Shoalhaven landscape.
Adrian told stories about the Min Min lights found in Aboriginal myths. The unsolved mystery light at times follows travellers for long distances and anyone who chases the lights and catches them, is said to never return to tell the tale. Min Min lights are depicted in the mural.
Flagstaff CEO Roy Rogers acknowledged the hard work of the students.
“We would like to thank and acknowledge all the students, teachers and schools who participated in the artwork,” Mr Rogers said.
“The mural is a collaborative approach in showcasing creative teaching with purpose.
“The artwork is a showpiece for the Shoalhaven and instils the messaging of the Shoalhaven River ecosystem. It empowers people with disabilities and schools to join together on a project for International Day of People with Disability 2018 and showcases inclusiveness and equality.”
The mural was unveiled by Shoalhaven City Council’s Deputy Mayor, Councillor Patricia White.
The Flagstaff Group is a not-for-profit social enterprise supporting people with disability in employment and life skills.