A local indigenous gallery in St George is inspiring an expression of culture and the collaboration of locals where heritage, the arts and storytelling are celebrated.

The Mani Tribes Art Gallery opened in St George on May 30 this year with overwhelmingly widespread support and interest. More than 800 people a month on average have visited the indigenous gallery featuring the work of local St George artists including Gordon Lister and Adrian Combarngo. Both Gordon and Adrian feel a strong connection to country, growing up fishing on the banks of Balonne River, learning about bush food and listening to storytelling by their Elders.

Local Community Police Liaison Officer Adam Osborne was integral in establishing the gallery. Working with disengaged and unemployed locals, Adam noticed a common theme in both the need for cultural expression and an immense local talent ready to be showcased. “I just kept seeing this amazing artistic talent that was otherwise unknown,” said Adam. So, he rolled up his sleeves and became involved in all aspects of creating the gallery from the fitout to the daily management and mentor support of the artists. The gallery serves as an important component of back to work activities for some, and a platform for others who are inspired to learn and exhibit their work.

Artist and digeridoo performer Gordon Lister has spent many years teaching his love of tribal celebration to young children. He continues to share the joy of performing with tourists and locals, including groups of school children who visit the gallery — enthralled with the expressive artform involving telling stories about nature and culture. Gordon started painting when he was nine and his paintings and digeridoos are now far flung in homes around the country, as far away as South Australia. “It feels like throwing a stone into the water and the ripples just keep going and going and going,” reflects Gordon. “I lost myself when I went away and left country [St George] — I was off track and I needed purpose in my life. Art means a lot to me; it has always been there in our family — it’s like a line that runs through our body — when we dance or paint — from the heart, through the body.”

Adam takes groups of locals “out scrub” to find digeridoo (hollowed out box trees) and sticks for boomerangs and clap sticks which are carved, painted and exhibited in the gallery. A recent opportunity has been the request from local landholders for commissions — whereby a digeridoo is created by Gordon from timber on the property as a special keepsake.

“Maal, Bullaarr and Guilibaa — three things that this is about for me,” says Gordon in his native language (which he is teaching himself). “Maal ‘one’ — me, I gotta work on me to support those people I love, Bulaarr, ‘two’ — my community, my clan, my people and Guilibaa ‘three’ — take it to the nation; share it with others.”

The Mani Tribes Gallery is located at 107 Victoria Street, St George.

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