Family totems and cultural symbols taught to Barkandji kids through creative art wall

A young Aboriginal girl in pink pants and blue top stands next to a wooden wall with multicoloured paintings
Harmony Philp was one of several Menindee youngsters who helped paint the walls.(Supplied: Prissy Stephens)

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A group of Aboriginal rangers responsible for looking after their traditional land hope their office can become a hub of cultural creativity and collaboration.   

Key points:

  • The Barkandji Rangers work out of Menindee and Wilcannia
  • Their walls were painted in celebration of NAIDOC Week 2023
  • Children were taught to paint traditional symbols such as a goanna and gathering place

The Barkandji “River” Rangers, who are employed by the Barkandji Native Title Group, operate in Menindee and Wilcannia, with plans to expand into Broken Hill and Wentworth.

The rangers have been searching in recent months for more ways to connect with their communities, particularly their fellow Barkandji people.

Menindee and Wilcannia ranger coordinator and Barkandji woman, Prissy Stephens, said blank wooden panels at the back of their office presented a perfect opportunity.

“I’d been trying to contact the school for a few weeks to get the kids to come down so we could paint the wall in the hub at Menindee,” Ms Stephens said.

“I just thought it could be somewhere for the kids to express themselves and tell their story.”

Ms Stephens said she then pitched it as a school holiday activity to coincide with NAIDOC Week.

Despite wet conditions, the rangers opened their doors to several children and their parents over multiple days last week.

a wooden wall with colourful Aboriginal-inspired paintings all over it
Painted additions varied from the Aboriginal flag to native species and symbols.(Supplied: Prissy Stephens)

“It was open to all ages, we had some kids here who were one and we had some older kids who were around 14, 15, so it was a good variety,” Ms Stephens said.

“We were [also] sitting with the kids and asking if they knew what some of their traditional symbols [were] and if they didn’t, we told them.”

Collaborative efforts

The wall was filled with colourful imagery, including native animal tracks, watering holes and Aboriginal flags.

The rangers also extended an invitation to the local Aboriginal men’s business group to offer their own reflections on NAIDOC Week.

Ranger and Barkandji elder, Vincent “Max” Quayle, was pleased to see the youths’ enthusiasm to participate as well as the range of creative input to decorate the wall.

“It makes me feel good to know the kids want to come down and participate in an activity where we’re only really starting off,” Mr Quayle said.

“I thought it was great and I think it was a little bit of a success story for us.”

While the wall was dedicated to NAIDOC Week 2023, Ms Stephens said she saw it as an ongoing way for the rangers to engage with their community.

“[The idea is to] paint it all and when something comes up again next year, we paint it all white and get the kids to come in and do it all again,” she said.

A older Aboriginal man wearing a cap and beige clothing standing in some bush scrub.
Max Quayle says the painted walls have been a successful initiative.(ABC Broken Hill: Oliver Brown)

Meanwhile, Mr Quayle said he would like to see local Aboriginal men’s and women’s groups use part of the wall to depict the family histories and totems of the Barkandji people.


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