There are so many coincidences and stories that collided to make this project begin.
As a painter of Australian Native Flora I am regularly at the Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens keeping an eye on the new blooms in the changing of seasons. Last summer to my delight the sacred lotus had emerged and bloomed in the lake right by the cafe. I saw some gardens staff and applauded them for this new planting, explaining that I am an artist who paints native flora. Den Fisher then said "paint me".
Well I didn't paint portraits, but at that time I enrolled in Robin Eley's oil painting course which turned out to be portraiture. As I applied his tecniques, there was Den's face, so I thought I had best find him again and paint him.
I went on the Aboriginal Heritage Tour at the gardens and Ben Church taught us about the three plants used in the smoking ceremony. One to represent the past ancestors who lived on this land, one for today and one for the past. The smoke of all three mingles to cleanse, heal and strengthen.
I have learned from my work over 20 yrs as a communication facilitator of issue resolution and persuasive communication that success in these areas is based on connection and recognition. Many people are like me and don't know how to connect to the indigenous heritage of our land because we don't know much about it. Our history books didn't tell us much, but this is beginning to change. I am not an Aboriginal Australian but I am a lifelong learner and educator and applaud those who are helping us learn.
When I painted Den's portrait I new through many little signs that I was on the right track. The work Den and Ben do at the botanic gardens teaching visitors about Aboriginal Heritage is important. It seeds many conversations in the broader community. Through learning we build understanding and can begin those conversations that help us to connect our diverse talents and strengths. Without those conversations Australia holds a weakness of not embracing the rich culture of it's past and turning it to advantage.
As an artist I can use my art to acknowledge these individuals who are conduits of change and broadcast it further. Please subscribe to the project to learn about the ways dedicated individuals are focusing on what can be done and bringing Aboriginal culture into their work today.
I am immensely grateful to the The Royal Melbourne Botanic Gardens for hosting the unveiling of Den Fisher's portrait and Launch of Keys to Our Country the Project on November 1 2017.
This is how the portrait begins - with music composed by my friend Gordon Harvey. There are no keys in the portrait at this early stage. When I said to Den I wanted to include them he immediately said - 'I know what to call it - Keys to my country, No, Keys to Our Country. And so it is.