Step inside DownsSteam’s latest creation and you will be whisked away to another world where colour and imagination rendezvous with dreams and legend.

The Dreamtime Journey Coach at the DownsSteam tourist railway and museum is the result of one Aboriginal artist’s vision and more than 700 hours of his meticulous labour. Now open to the public, Domi’s surprising work of art has transformed a blank train carriage into a vibrant tunnel which allows visitors to enjoy both a visual and physical experience. The paintings stretch from dawn to dusk, and beach to forest, in a celebration of creation and life.

Powerful totems are peppered throughout the paintings including an enormous rainbow serpent gliding down the middle of the ceiling. Butterflies have been purposely sprinkled through the scenes as a tribute to the artist’s people, especially his much loved grandmother. Each stroke, dot and symbol fuse in an eruption of colour that reveals a myriad of Aboriginal Dreamtime stories passed down to the artist by his tribal elders.

Domi describes his artwork as a blend of traditional and contemporary styles with a strong fantasy element. “Using traditional stories and totems, my objective is to take the viewer on a spiritual journey based on Dreamtime symbolism,” he said. “I use vibrant colour to represent the dynamism of a living culture that is the oldest in the world. My mission is to transport the viewer into the world of the Dreamtime and to share the stories taught to me by my tribal elders. My work has their blessing but that privilege carries the responsibilities of keeping our heritage alive.”

While the art is remarkable in itself, perhaps more significant is the personal story behind the painted ones. Domi (whose surname has been omitted) conceived this masterpiece while completing a prison rehabilitation program. “It has been a very enjoyable challenge for me but it has also been very humbling. It has been a privilege to use the patterns and symbols handed down to me by my uncles to create this artwork for people to enjoy,” he said.

“In the Aboriginal language, Ill-a-thor-kan in de means ‘do not let it go’. This artwork is the living proof of the existence of my ancestors. Please walk with me on my journey into my dreaming.”
The installation is located at DownsSteam on the corner of Ball and Cambooya Streets, Drayton. The community-based volunteer organisation was established five years ago. During that time, it has created a picturesque outdoor railway museum surrounded by award-winning gardens. Along with community open days and volunteer working bees, the museum hosts private functions in the restored dining carriage.

Domi’s artwork is a unique addition to the museum and has been dubbed the “art gallery in a train carriage”. Entry to DownsSteam is by gold coin donation and only $5 for the Dreamtime Journey Coach, open 10am to 2pm Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. Working bees are also held on these days and volunteers are always welcome.

Words by Heather Smith  |  Images by Robert Ketton