‘Culture is who you are’

07 July 2016

For as long as she can remember, painting has kept Christinaray grounded.

“Art has always been my rock,” says the 23-year-old RMIT student and contemporary artist. “It keeps me together and allows me to express myself and tell my life story.”


Christinaray, born in Darwin but a Melburnian since she was three, was commissioned by the Brotherhood of St Laurence to paint a mural that reflects the organisation's commitment to reconciliation.

“I’ve decided to use rivers to represent growth,” she says when describing the design of the artwork. “Water is very powerful.”

An Indigenous woman of the Warumungu people, Christinaray says the rivers show how the Brotherhood has “carved its way into doing what it’s doing”.

"You’ve made your own paths from starting off small all those years ago into something pretty big – making your own way, helping people, meeting people, making impressions on people, giving them that chance.”

A matter of the heart
Reconciliation between Australia’s Indigenous and non-Indigenous people is close to Christinaray’s heart.

In an understated and dignified way, she describes the racism she faced as a kid.

“When I was in primary school, I didn’t really like that I was Indigenous because I got bullied and stuff a lot, so I kind of tried not be [Indigenous].

“Eventually, when I was in Grade 5, I started realising that I wasn’t really the problem and I started accepting that side of me, because culture is who you are – it keeps you grounded.

“When I started accepting who I was, I learnt that it was better to be a good person than to treat people how I’d been treated.”

Her rise as a young artist is made more impressive owing to the challenges she has overcome in more recent times.

In her late teens, she found shelter at a women’s refuge because it wasn’t safe in her family home. A few weeks later she moved into a Brotherhood of St Laurence youth foyer.

Learn more about the Brotherhood’s youth foyers

The Education First Youth Foyers – one in Glen Waverly, the other in Broadmeadows – help to break the cycle of homelessness by providing 16 to 24 year-olds with safe and affordable housing for two years while they study towards a career. The housing is located on local TAFE campuses.

Inspiration has many sources
Mostly self-taught, Christinaray says she draws support from several places.

Inspired by the many artists in her family, young Chrissie would pester her mum for tips on Indigenous art. Her family in Darwin is also on-hand for advice and guidance.

“They’ve been encouraging, telling me to just go for it and letting me know if I’m doing something wrong and helping me,” she says.

“I always feel like I can call them and ask them anything.”

Back in Fitzroy – where she created the mural on the traditional lands of the Wurundjeri people – Christinaray says her dream is to continue painting and drawing. She also wants to work in community centres and teach painting and art therapy.

“You can’t make a living off being an artist unless you’re really big,” she says with a smile.

Though one can guess the budding artist would still give back to her community even if she does crack the big time.

Christinaray’s mural was unveiled at the Brotherhood’s head office in Fitzroy during Reconciliation Week, May 27-June 3.

Watch a video of her story here

For more information, view the Brotherhoods Reconciliation Action Plan

The Brotherhood of St Laurence (BSL) acknowledges and understands its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and recognises that all children and young people have the right to be treated with respect and care, and to be safe from all forms of abuse. BSL has a zero tolerance towards child abuse.
Read the official statement signed by the Executive Director.

The Brotherhood recognises the harm that family violence causes and that freedom from violence is a basic human right.
We will support our staff, volunteers, clients and the community if they experience violence.

Find out more about the work of the Brotherhood
Australian Aboriginal flag, a yellow circle on two horizontal black and red stripes

The Brotherhood of St Laurence acknowledges and recognises the Traditional Owners of the land upon which we live and work, and we pay our respects to their Elders both past and present.

Torres Strait Islander flag, an icon of a traditional headdress on blue, black and green stripes