Helping find purpose

By Simon Ruppert

A new exhibition of works by local artist Chris Thorne, which address the difficult issue of suicide, is on display at Benalla Library.

Chris, who is known for producing, high-quality Aboriginal artworks that tell traditional stories of this region, is involved with Benalla’s Place Based Suicide Prevention Trial.

It is that involvement, combined with his love of art, which motivated him to create two paintings that make up the Community Connections Exhibition.

Chris fought back tears as he spoke at the official opening, which was held on Thursday.

‘‘One of the things that every one of us in here is sick and tired of doing, is going to funerals,’’ he said.

‘‘Funerals for people that we’ve lost through suicide.

‘‘People we loved and cared about in our community.

‘‘And we have to do something about it. Every one of us has the opportunity to stand up and do their little bit.

‘‘Some of my little bits are these paintings.’’

He then spoke a bit about Bek Nash-Webster, who is the co-ordinator of the Benalla Place Based Suicide Prevention Trial.

‘‘When Bek started here in her role she was moving from office to office around Benalla and we were lucky enough to have her come and sit in the Hume PCP office for a little while,’’ Chris said.

‘‘A lot of people might not know this, but Bek’s a pretty keen skater.

‘‘So one day I came to work and here’s a skateboard leaning against her desk.

‘‘I asked a few questions and said ‘what if I do a painting on your skateboard — maybe we could raffle it off and put some money towards one of the events that you’re planning’.

‘‘So they ended up giving me this blank skateboard, which I now call a coolamon, it’s not a skateboard any more.’’

A coolamon is a carrying vessel traditionally used by Aboriginal women to hold water, fruit and nuts, as well as to cradle babies.

‘‘I held it in my hands and I thought ‘the story that I had in my head isn’t going to fit on this skateboard — it’s not big enough’,’’ Chris said.

‘‘So I took it home, I walked into my studio and I put the skateboard straight down on top of a canvas, and I got a little bit upset.

‘‘I got upset because I saw the whole story and I knew then that I had to mount this onto the canvas, so I could tell it.

‘‘I stayed up quite a bit that night, working out how I could fasten the now coolamon onto that canvas. As soon as it was bolted on there I started working on the story.

‘‘In my job I link the Aboriginal community into health (services). And I see a lot of issues with our health and so much of it is linked to disconnection from our culture.

‘‘Many of our young people have lost their way and they don’t feel they have any reason to get out of bed.

‘‘If I can find a way to get these young people and some of our older people to re-connect to our culture I honestly believe so many other problems will fade away.’’

Chris said that as a senior Aboriginal man in the community he often had people asking how they could re-connect with their culture.

‘‘So in this painting I tried to represent the elder holding the coolamon, full of the knowledge ready to share with our lost community,’’ he said.

‘‘So all the footprints and all the lines coming from all the way around are the people coming back home.

‘‘Coming back to community. Coming back to the culture. Coming back to their knowledge and feeling like they have a reason to continue on.

‘‘I’m really happy with the way it turned out. I took it to work and I showed Bek and a few others. Everyone seemed to be on the same page.

‘‘Then somebody said ‘what about the non-Aboriginal people? They have just as many problems as we do. They’re lost, too.

‘‘So I went back home and I though how do I share the same sort of story? How do I create something that’s going to give non-Aboriginal people a purpose to get out of bed?

‘‘And that’s how it came about. That word — purpose. If none of us have a purpose, why get out of bed? Why go on? Why do anything?

‘‘We have to help our young non-Indigenous people to find their purpose in life. And then they can help their parents and everyone in their community to have the passion and the love that we have in my community.

‘‘We all need that purpose. It might be to heal, it might be to help. It might be both.

‘‘I’m very lucky to have a foot in both camps. My Aboriginal side as well as my non-Aboriginal side.

‘‘For a long time I was a person who had no purpose. But now I have a really strong purpose in life. I know who I am, I know what I am, and I know where I’m going.

‘‘So I’ve been very blessed to have really strong aunties and uncles, and very strong non-Aboriginal people help me when I put my hand up.’’

Chris then described the reasons for his creative decisions in the second painting.

‘‘Most people understand that the four colours represent all the races of the world. I’d already done one for the blackfellas.

‘‘But we’ve got the red man, the white man and the yellow man, that purpose is different for everybody.

‘‘But the reason to have that purpose is the same for all of us. No matter what colour you are, no matter what shape you are.

‘‘If we can help each other find our purpose, so many of the problems in our community will disappear.

‘‘We won’t have our crime problems, our drug problems, our domestic violence problems, our kids in out of home care problems, and the list goes on and on.

‘‘I’m really proud to have some of my art hanging here. I hope that maybe someone might come and sit in one of these chairs and have a look at them and say ‘I maybe need to ring one of these numbers here’.

‘‘Or maybe I need to go to the front desk and say ‘will you please help me’.

‘‘If just one person does that, this has been a great success.’’

●If you, or someone you know, are having issue and need someone to speak to you can contact one of the following:

●Lifeline on 131114 or

●Suicide Call Back Service on 1300659467 or

●Kids Helpline on 1800551800 or

●Connect Benalla at

●Beyond Blue on 1300224636