7 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.

The Education First Youth Foyers – one in Glen Waverley, 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, 27 May - 3 June.

Watch a video of her story

Find out more about our Reconciliation Action Plan