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St Stephen’s unveils First Nations artwork to honour country and culture


A new First Nations artwork unveiled at St Stephen’s Hospital in Hervey Bay this week is a symbol of culture and connection created to say one simple message – you are welcome here.

First Nations ArtworkIt’s a project more than three-years in the making, which started with a year-long search to find a local Butchulla artist to create the piece.

St Stephen’s Hospital Clinical Nurse Manager, Bea Wallis, has led the project from the beginning and described the search which led her to Butchulla Elder and artist, Karen Hall.

“When we first had the discussion about a new artwork, I had in my mind something colourful and very happy. I wanted to show our intention to be deliberate in our connection to the Butchulla people. We wanted to do more than talk the talk,” Bea said.

“We wanted to introduce an artwork that could show the culture of the Butchulla people, the Traditional Owners of the land on which we work and care for our community.

“It took over a year to find the artist, but after countless phone calls to local Elders, an art curator, members of the community and many unsuccessful leads, eventually I got a call out of the blue from Karen.

“Karen is a talented artist and Butchulla Elder, who lives right here in Hervey Bay. She heard about our project and called to say she would love to do it,” she said.

Fast forward to today and the newly unveiled artwork titled ‘Ancestors continue to watch over Country’ has brought a burst of colour and culture to St Stephen’s.

Displayed in stained-glass, the artwork symbolises the land, water, sky and ancestral spirits that watch over this land.

L-R Karen Hall Artist and Bea Wallis CNMArtist, Karen Hall, explains each of the elements beginning at the bottom of the image where the land is most important and covered in the footsteps of ancestors.

“Within the land is held the three main Butchulla lore, which are represented by three white ochre lines. They are, what is best for this land must come first, do not take or touch anything which doesn’t belong to you and if you have plenty you must share,” Karen said.

“I then represent water with blue lines and the land in various shades of green. Moving higher to the many colours of the sky at sunset, where the night sky is coming into place. The sun is setting behind the hill with rays reaching out across the lands.

“The white globes which hover represent the ancestral spirits which continue to watch over this land,” she said.

The artwork is located in the main foyer of St Stephen’s Hospital where the vivid colours catch the light from the courtyard for all who pass by to enjoy.

“Each of us interprets art in a different way and that’s what makes it a universal language. It’s a conversation starter and has an important role to play in healing, culture and connection,” Bea said.

“We wanted this artwork to symbolise our commitment to walking alongside First Nations peoples, to embracing our Butchulla community and to bridging the gap.

“We hope the art will become a talking point that will prompt people to sit down and talk about all the things that matter in bringing a community together and making it stronger.

“But most importantly, our hope is that this artwork will help to make all First Nations peoples who come into our hospital feel extremely welcomed,” she said. 

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