In a prestigious ceremony at Government House Melbourne, three founding members of the Lakes Entrance based arts company, Wurinbeena, were individually recognised with Medals of the Order of Australia (OAM).
The OAMs were originally announced in the 2020 Queen’s Birthday Honours, however due to extended delays with the COVID-19 pandemic, the investitures were delayed.
Gunai Monaro artist, Frances Harrison, Bidawal artist, Lennie Hayes, and non- indigenous artist, Catherine Larkins, were each recognised with OAMs for services to indigenous visual srts and the community.
They were recognised individually for their creative accomplishments, but also for their outstanding collaborative arts projects helping to unite, heal and empower communities.
The medal was presented in a small private ceremony with the Governor General, The Hon. Linda Dessau AC.
Each recipient was accompanied by four members of their family with one chosen to pin on the medal.
It is rare that three individuals from a community group or company receive OAMs and this was noted at the Government House ceremony.
Also at the investitures was renowned Aboriginal Professor, Marcia Langton, who was awarded an AO. She was very encouraging of the work done by the three who were likewise very inspired and honoured to meet her.
“Bringing people together, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, to share and celebrate art and culture is the way forward.” they said in a shared statement.
The three artists, who grew up and live in the Lakes Entrance area, began working together in 2006 when Catherine invited Lennie and Frances to join her to create ‘Common Ground’, a major waterfront art installation and spectacle.
The cross-cultural event brought together thousands of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people to celebrate 60,000 years of Australian history on Australia Day 2007.
The three artists then went on to install the first permanent public Aboriginal artwork in Lakes Entrance. The Spirit Poles and Waterhole tell stories of
Gunaikurnai country. Both stand proudly at the entranceways of Gippsland Lakes Complete Health and Lakes Entrance Aboriginal Health Association in Jemmeson Street.
In 2011 with strong state-wide competition, the State Government awarded the Indigenous Cultural Expressions Commission to them for their idea to build a movable art space called Gunyah.
Working with local designer, Mark Simnett, they conceived a huge inflatable shell in the shape of a sand crab.
Designed for an audience of 200 people with a plan to tour locally, nationally and internationally they hope the vision will one day be fully funded.
In the meantime they have continued to make work to travel with Gunyah including the Black Post White film series, stories by local Koori Elders speaking of their struggle to survive post white settlement, and Kangaroo Tales, a stunning sculpture installation, currently on show at Gippsland Art Gallery Sale.
With support from Creative Victoria in 2018 the Wurinbeena board and community opened the Wurinbeena Studio Gallery in Myer Street.
The studio provides a valuable creative space to manage arts projects and for local Aboriginal artists to make work and share ideas.
The challenges of COVID hindered the gallery operations and provided the impetus for a greater online presence.
A new website is currently underway to share Wurinbeena’s projects, profile Koori artists and sell their work.
Together with local Elders, artists and the community, Frances, Lennie and Catherine are proud to continue their work inspiring and encouraging those around them to dream and share the creative spirit.
Lakes Entrance artists Frances Harrison, Catherine Larkins and Lennie Hayes proudly wear their Order of Australia Medals (OAM) after the Investiture ceremony at Government House Melbourne recently. PICTURED: On the Government House steps the three OAM recipients with invited family members and friends (back) Steven Harrison, Brendon Farlow, Bonnie Ryan, Susan Purdy, (centre) Amber Harrison, Bob Thorneycroft, Catherine Larkins OAM, Lennie Hayes OAM, Cherry Hayes, (front) Amelia Harrison, Frances Harrison OAM, Summer Harrison, Cherika Hayes and Aunty Barbara Hayes. (PS)