Sharon Smith’s hobby of painting is more than just a pastime. It’s a way for her to embrace her cultural identity and is somewhat a conduit to connect with her Aboriginal ancestors.
The contemporary Aboriginal artist said when she practices art, it not only helps her tell the stories of her cultural history, but also plays a major role in her personal journey towards understanding her roots.
“My mum is Danish, my dad is Aboriginal,” she explained.
“When I do my work, my ancestors start speaking to me and that’s how my art comes out.”
The Waterloo resident practices her art at Leichhardt’s Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative and enjoys creating pieces that mostly reflect her love of the natural world.
Through her depictions of landscapes, trees and animals, Sharon explores her own personal connection with the earth.
Descendant of the Wiradjuri tribe of western New South Wales, Sharon has created an artwork titled The Three Riverswhich represents Wiradjuri Country.
“Wiradjuri is known as the land of the three rivers because of the rivers that make up the area – the Wambool (Macquarie River), the Kalare (Lachlan River) and the Murrumbidjeri (Murrumbidgee River),” she said.
For Sharon, Wiradjuri Country has a special place in her heart because it brings back fond childhood memories.
“I mainly remember the rivers. My father was born on the Lachlan river.”
Sharon’s paintings thematically express her heritage and culture and are a declaration of her identity. She highlighted the importance for the story of Wiradjuri Country to be heard through Indigenous art.
“We’ve never had a voice. Now we have a voice through our art, our dancing, and our culture,” she said. “My art gives me a voice. That way I can speak about my people, my art, and my ancestors and what they did.”
The 62-year-old’s artwork is featured on a billboard located on the Newell Highway south of Dubbo. Welcoming people to Wiradjuri Country, the billboard aims to help increase awareness about the traditional lands of First Nations peoples.
She says she can’t find the words to explain how much it means to her that Indigenous art is being showcased on such a large scale. “I’m just so pleased,” Sharon enthused.
Phil Lockyer, NRMA Insurance Executive Manager for Safer Communities and IAG’s Indigenous Engagement Manager, said Australians drive across the country each year yet many don’t know the history of the land on which they travel on.
“Our artworks are designed to create awareness and help drivers connect with the land as they pass through and contribute to a proud and shared national identity for all Australians,” he said.
A proud supporter of First Nations communities and the Reconciliation movement in Australia, NRMA Insurance’s parent company IAG launched its third Elevate Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) in February 2019.
The RAP outlines commitments such as providing employment and internship opportunities to First Nations people, as well as supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses.
In June this year, IAG joined 13 major organisations during National Reconciliation Week supporting the Uluru Statement from the Heart, which calls for the establishment of a First Nations voice in the constitution.