Community News

Offenders’ dots, paint strokes and colour create vivid connection with culture

Dot paintings, colourful boomerangs and a depiction of the sun beating down on a boab tree – these are the artworks donning the walls of the Balund-a Program near Tabulam, north of Grafton. Nine offenders have contributed to the in-house exhibition, using the techniques and skills they’ve learned in an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Art course to create acrylic paintings on canvas and wood. “This course gives offenders the opportunity to develop basic creative and technical skills that underpin Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art by exposing them to artists, artistic medium, and cultural content,” Balund-a program manager Lisa O’Brien said. “It also allows them to express themselves in a positive and creative way, while still learning new skills and, for many of them, strengthening the connection to their cultural heritage.” Six offenders have recently graduated with a Certificate II in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Art, run by ACE Community College. Many of the artworks exhibited represent stories from the offenders’ cultural backgrounds or the local Bunjalung, Wiradjiri and Gamilaroi peoples. Balund-a is an innovative residential diversionary program for male offenders over 18 years of age, who would otherwise be incarcerated. It addresses specific areas of risk to help offenders improve their life skills and reintegration into the community. The program includes cognitive based programs addressing addiction, aggression and domestic violence. Education in literacy and numeracy, rural operations, civil construction, driver training and hospitality is also provided. Residents gain independent living skills and are able to reduce state debt via work development orders. The property is situated on 534 hectares and also operates as a farming and beef cattle property giving the residents the opportunity to develop agricultural skills.