Contemporary Indigenous artist Chern’ee Sutton’s work has been seen by hundreds of thousands of people, and with her artwork about to circulate on Australian currency, that number is about to explode.

Sutton’s work has been featured on the NRL Indigenous All Stars jerseys, she’s worked with the Commonwealth Games, and has exhibited in Hong Kong, Singapore, and London.

The proud Kalkadoon woman has now designed the artwork on Australia’s newest circulating coin, a $2 coin commemorating the military service of Indigenous men and women.

The coin was launched in Canberra at the Royal Australian Mint on last Tuesday, and Sutton said it’s a career highlight.

“I’ve done a lot of things in my painting career, [but] this is absolutely amazing. Not many people get to have their artwork on circulating coins, so it’s very special for me,” she said.

“[The Mint] has done several coins to in the lead up to ANZAC Day throughout the past and it normally recognizes ANZAC Day, Remembrance Day, war nurses, all that sort of stuff.

“To have one that specifically represents Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is very, very special.”

At the launch of the coin, Royal Australian Mint CEO Leigh Gordon AO spoke about the importance of recognising the contributions of Aboriginal soldiers to the defence of the nation.

“With this coin, the Royal Australian Mint acknowledges and celebrates Indigenous Australia’s longstanding tradition of serving in the military.”

“Having served in every conflict and commitment involving Australian defence contingents since federation, including but not limited to, Gallipoli, Kokoda and Vietnam, the strength of Indigenous Service has been a constant throughout Australian history,” he said.

Sutton has family connections to military service — her grandfather Martin served in the Second World War and one of her cousins is currently serving in the military.

The painting that became a coin was a long time coming. Sutton said she wanted to be careful to accurately represent First Nations Defence Force personnel.

“I had to do quite a bit of research on the coin, just to make sure I was accurately representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander service personnel who had served throughout history, as well as their journeys and the conflicts which they fought in,” she said.

“I also had to get permission to use the camouflage in the painting and had come up with several different concepts and designs for the Mint, and the Defence Force did approve,” Sutton said.

The coin features a black handprint to represent First Nations people on a background of three rows of dots in the colours of the Defence Force’s tri-service flag.

The motif is surrounded by a coiled snake, representing both Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and their journey from their communities to service and home again.

Sutton said she’s received lots of positive feedback from the coin design.

“I have had quite a bit of feedback from service personnel, mostly on Facebook and LinkedIn. But there were a few service personnel at the launch as well. A few of them have said that I’ve really accurately represented that story and they’re very proud to be acknowledged,” she said.

For those looking to keep the coin, a limited-edition uncirculated version is available to purchase from the Royal Australian Mint.

By Sarah Smit