Mary Kennedy

Mary Kennedy: artist

For Mary Kennedy her work as Regional Indigenous Cultural Development Officer is less about leading and more about working with her art group.

“With the group I sort of go “so what about doing this,’ or, ‘so we’re working towards this’ and then they do their own thing with their art whereas if I’m working outside our group, in a school or something, then they need a bit more direction and that’s when I lead.”

For Warren, the introduction of the RICDO program led initially by Peter Browne, meant a step forward in connecting both the Indigenous and non-indigenous members of the community through a common cause. For Mary and the men and women in her art group, it meant a creative outlet and also a step towards furthering the education about the Ngemba Wailwan tribe.

“Before Peter came we knew there were Aboriginals from around this area but we didn’t know their stories. I knew some and knew where the (carved) trees and burial grounds were because I remembered my Grandfather showing me as a little girl but it wasn’t until Peter approached me after he saw me holding an art workshop after being up north and said ‘can you get some interested people to get together to do art’…that we were shown all the pictures (of carved trees) and the stories behind the tribe’s history.”

For the Ngemba Wailwan people the road to recovery has been a challenging one. Nearly wiped to extinction in the 1800’s, their people have lived in between Gilgandra and Brewarrina but have centred in Warren where Mary, her art group and their families now reside.

Connecting with all members of her local community, Mary says there has been renewed interest by the younger people about their ancestors and the stories that older members in the community carry.

“Nearly all the (original) stories have been lost because all the old ones were moved onto missions near Bourke and they mixed with different tribes from up north and what not and were told not to talk about it (their traditions) to the young ones. There were all different types with all different languages and ways of doing things. To compare it’d be like sticking all different people from Europe in a camp and see how it goes! But you know, now it’s different, now we can talk about the traditions.”

Educating the community about the Ngemba Wailwan people is something Mary strives to achieve and inspiration seems to overflow with the group invited to lead workshops and create artworks for the 2011 Moorambilla Festival as well as being a source of inspiration for the music created for the main performance.

“With Moorambilla that was a really emotional time with what we were doing with the music (stories told by the women and their artwork were used as inspiration for the composers) and the art. It made you feel proud, it made you feel.”And for Mary that is what her art is all about, feeling.

“We paint what we feel. Not necessarily basing our artworks around the tree carvings, (although they still take inspiration from them), but I tell the others to paint what they feel now…I try not to limit them.”

For the art group the possibilities seem limitless. Already exhibited at NSW Parliament House Mary says she is still blown away by the success of the art group which she attributes to Peter’s passion for the development of the RICDO program in Warren and creating opportunities for them.

“I just can’t believe that it’s all happened, that we’ve been so successful in such a short time.  A lot of people work years and years to get where we are. (As far as the program goes) I think it’s wonderful and I think it’s been wonderful for the people here in Warren. From an artists’ point of view, I think it’s been a wonderful thing to bring back so much for our people around here. For me to be able to do it, to be part of it, I’m really stoked. We’re all proud of what we’re doing.”