Twenty-five year old Evangeline is a proud young Ramingining woman from the small town of Beswick (Wugularr) in the Northern Territory who, with the support of Caritas Australia, is helping to preserve the art and culture of Aboriginal communities and provide greater meaning for herself and other young local people.
As senior Artsworker at the Djilpin Arts Ghunmarn Culture Centre, Evangeline is responsible for collecting and maintaining traditional artworks, as part of the centre’s wider aim of preserving cultural knowledge through the mediums of art, storytelling, dance and song.
The centre is a community-owned venture supported by Caritas Australia’s Development of Cultural Enterprise program. It brings together Elders and young people to ensure that cultural practices and knowledge are not lost and runs enterprises such as the exhibiting and selling of local artwork.
Evangeline, an Artsworker at the Djilpin Arts Ghunmarn Culture Centre. “Culture is our identity and how we understand ourselves. It’s important for us young people to be able to learn these skills and then we can pass them on when we are old.”
For Evangeline, the job has provided a positive turning point in her life after she felt uncertainty about her future upon leaving school.
Like many remote First Australian communities, Beswick faces a range of complex ongoing challenges. Many people in the town feel disempowered by poorly conceived policies and decisions. A lack of access to services and general feelings of helplessness, rejection and loss also mean that a lot of families struggle with financial hardship.
“Not enough jobs, housing is still too crowded, alcohol problems and health problems,” Evangeline explains.
In the community of just 450 people, education is accessible but finishing school doesn’t always feel possible.
Evangeline has completed Year 11 but, even though she liked school, she didn’t consider doing Year 12. “Everyone at Beswick doesn’t finish high school,” she says. “I didn’t really think about doing more education at the time.”
She tried a few career options, but soon felt dispirited. “I got caught up in drinking for a while,” Evangeline admits, “but, by the time I was 22, I really started to think about doing something positive with my life.”
With this in mind, she approached the Djilpin Arts Ghunmarn Culture Centre – she had sought work at the centre several times before, and her determination paid off when a short-term maternity contract became available. The management quickly recognised Evangeline’s potential and, within months, she was offered a full-time role as an Artsworker.
Since joining the centre, Evangeline has truly flourished. She’s undertaken many training programs in the past three years, and was the youngest Artsworker ever to be accepted into the ANKAAA Artsworkers Extension Program.
The program also took Evangeline to Melbourne, Sydney and Canberra. “We visited the big art galleries, learning about conservation and collections,” she says. “I had to give talks about Djilpin Arts, including PowerPoint presentations.” Evangeline excelled in the program, and was invited back to Melbourne the following year to mentor new undergraduates, and share her experience, culture and learnings.
Evangeline is happy to have such a fulfilling role, which is helping her achieve a future she’d never imagined. “This opportunity has helped me turn my life into something more positive,” she says. “It makes me more confident and more independent.”
In her newest role as Senior Artsworker, Evangeline is committed to helping her community remain connected to their culture. “If I share my knowledge back at Beswick, other young people might get interested in working and keeping culture,” Evangeline explains. “Culture is our identity and how we understand ourselves. It’s important for us young people to be able to learn these skills and then we can pass them on when we are old.”
With the support of Caritas Australia, Evangeline and her community are gaining the skills and desire to preserve traditional culture, and encourage a new phase of arts and cultural expression. Or, as Evangeline simply says: “You are helping us to keep our culture alive”.
Please donate to Project Compassion 2016 and help First Australians in remote communities of Australia gain new skills and renewed passion to preserve and celebrate traditional culture.