Word by Della Vreeland Images Supplied
Achieving understanding and respect between indigenous and non-indigenous peoples. Uniting and inspiring.
This is what Cassie Leatham sets out to do through her work.
“My art has many stories,” the proud Taungurung woman says.
“I try to inspire the youth and try to unite the community and bring non-indigenous people on the journey as well as breaking down barriers and bringing cultural education.”
“My art for me is not art. It’s my life journey and my ancestors’ ways.”
Growing up, Cassie was always connected to nature and its natural resources. The desire to create was instilled within her.
“When I was 15 I knew I wanted to be an artist but had other interests as well,” she recalls.
“I entered my first art competition and won and then I donated the prize money to a charity and decided I would continue creating and exhibiting my works.”
Over the last three decades, Cassie’s work has been acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria, Koorie Heritage Trust Collection, Melbourne Magistrates Court of Victoria and is exhibited nationally and internationally.
Working across a range of mediums, she likens her process to the methods of her ancestors before her.
“We create with all varieties of materials so that’s why I am who I am today. I don’t like to focus on one as why should I?” she exclaims.
It’s all about connection to the past and keeping traditional techniques alive for my people and the future generations.
As well as being an artist and master weaver, much of Cassie’s work is based around cultural education, healing, storytelling, dance and song.
She regularly hosts workshops in bush tukka, traditional weaving, bush craft, murals, ochre painting, bark paintings and a whole lot more.
Over the next year, Cassie says she hopes to continue educating, creating and sharing her wonders with whoever wants to learn.
“I don’t ever set goals for myself, as I feel spirit will guide me to do what I am meant to do,” she says.
“My journey is mine alone. I share my personal journey and my ways of collecting and making in my educational workshops and education. To pass on skills to future generations is important to me. It’s what I focus on the most.
“Healing for me is to pick up rubbish along sides of the roads and to clear sites of unwanted disposed items and care for my country and environment. It’s also ceremony and song and dance as well in my own personal space. Storytelling is empowering to share the stories of the old people.”
This year’s National Reconciliation Week (NRW) theme is ‘More Than a Word: Reconciliation Takes Action’.
The theme urges the reconciliation movement towards braver and more impactful action, remembering the importance of privileging and amplifying First Nations’ voices.
For Cassie, NRW will include the facilitation of education workshops in order for young people to further understand her community’s cultural practices.
“There is recognised aboriginal art and more and more opportunities are arising for aboriginal artists to share and create and exhibit works,” she says.
She hopes Australians everywhere will take this week to reflect, celebrate each other’s cultures, and be proud of who they are.
“I have seen so much unfold in my time from when I’ve been an emerging artist to now being an established artist and hoping aboriginal art keeps going strong.”
For 35 years, Cassie has developed her career and been presented with multiple career opportunities.
But her art has always been integral to who she is.
“I think, honestly, I was born to carry and continue my ancestors’ work on my journey,” she says.
“I feel that support is needed in becoming more aware of the talent of aboriginal artists and the diversity of artists that are not only from up north but here in Victoria.
“It would be giving our people here more encouragement and strength to share their art.”
To find out more about Cassie’s work, visit wildblakarts.com.au
WHAT: National Reconciliation Week
WHEN: May 27 to June 3
FIND OUT MORE: reconciliation.org.au/national-reconciliation-week