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The Art of Belonging

Mar 23 2020

For three Sunshine Coast artists, the sense of belonging they feel as part of their art group has been vital to helping them improve their lives and stay strong in the face of challenges.

Rebecca Jones, Allison Clarey, and Brendan Ball are members of NuunaRon, a group for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander artists and emerging artists living with disability.

Uncle Paul Calcott runs the art group, which he describes as a culturally safe space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people to share stories of resilience and keeping strong through yarning, painting and creating art.

As an Aboriginal Elder, Uncle Paul Calcott identifies the information and services gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability as critical barriers to their participation in the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS)

“The NDIS is great because it is person-centred and individually-based to support people to get into the community. What we need are culturally appropriate programs and activities. That’s where we need support to connect to the community and build resilience”.

Allison’s story

Allison Clarey’s 17-year-old son receives support through the NDIS and it was her NuunaRon peers who encouraged her through the application and planning process.

“When NDIS came around, it was like do I try or do I not? NuunaRon, which I’d been attending since it started, said to me ‘just give it a try, if you don’t try you won’t know whether you’re going to succeed or not’. So with Uncle Paul’s help, we filled out one of the books* he has,” Allison said.

Allison has been part of art groups in the past and felt that NuunaRon’s focus on resilience and storytelling through art was something she wanted to be part of.

“That’s the awesome thing about being part of NuunaRon; you’re all one. Even though we’re individuals, we’re all one altogether and by being one altogether, we’re stronger, we stand for more, we can accomplish more.”

Brendan’s story

Brendan Ball’s life has turned around since receiving NDIS funding, and it has brought the opportunity to connect with his Aboriginal culture.

“I was basically just at home for most of the week, looking after my dog and stuff like that, watching TV, not really doing much with my life at all,” Brendan said.

“But when the NDIS came in, that’s when really my doors opened. I have a worker once a week that comes in and takes me to archery, to painting if I need. They really helped me with the cultural side of things. I’m now getting funding so that I can get myself to the cultural events all around the Sunshine Coast.

“NuunaRon helps me to learn more. Not only about my own relatives and stuff, but it teaches me more about culture in general.

“Most of the artists have some sort of disability, ranging from hidden – I mean you can’t see their disability – to people like me who have a wheelchair, a walking stick, a scooter, you name it.

“Being in a community that they don’t see the chair, they see the person, that’s what I really needed. In the white community, I didn’t feel accepted. In this community, in the Indigenous community, I was welcomed with open arms. That’s sort of what I needed at the time.”

Rebecca’s story

Mother, advocate and artist, Rebecca Jones believes that creating a sense of belonging is a crucial factor in providing the right services for people with disability.

Rebecca lost a son to mental illness in 2019, and she feels NuunaRon is a model of community support that should be more readily available.

“There’s not really any supported programming out there to help people get cultural connection and awareness,” she said.

“They need to have opportunities to do stuff that’s more meaningful and is not just ticking the box.

“It’s not just about coming together and doing art when you come to something like NuunaRon. It’s about connecting with other community members; it’s about having a yarn with people who might be in similar situations. But it’s just done kind of different, kind of low-key.

“It gives me strength to go home and help and do what I need to do. It gives me a sense of calm, a sense of community, a sense of connection to the cultural community – to elders and younger people. A sense of belonging, actually. It gives so much and it’s really hard to define everything that it does.”

Carers Queensland can support you to find out more about the NDIS, to apply for funding and to help you get started with the NDIS.

If you have a disability but are not eligible for the NDIS, Carers Queensland can also help you identify and link to options for support in your community.

To find out more about how the NDIS and Local Area Coordination program can work for you, contact Carers Queensland on 1300 999 636, or cq.enquiries@ndis.gov.au

(*Our Way Planning is a resource developed by First Peoples Disability Network. It uses the traditional style of art and storytelling to help people living with a disability to think about what supports they may need.)