Hidden between the hustle and bustle of Meanjin’s concrete jungle you’ll find First Nations-owned and operated art gallery, Birrunga Gallery and Dining.

Whether through their First Nations Artisan Markets, supporting emerging artists, or philanthropy work, Birrunga is more than an art gallery — it’s a melting pot of First Nations creatives to come and share.

Recently Birrunga Gallery and Dining has been quietly working towards building a pipeline of resilient youth artists, including Kane Brunjes and Stevie O’Chin through their creation of a three-year Cultural Creative Residential program.

Wiradyuri man Birrunga Wiradyuri, the founder and principal artist of this precinct, spoke to their ethos when it comes to storytelling through art, through to building resilient artists.

“My thing is don’t do anything twice. It’s a very long game, and it’s not what the general art scene would preach,” said Wiradyuri.

“They’ll find what your good at and get you to repeat it — finite — you paint yourself into a corner immediately; and they tend to paint for the audience. So you paint because you’ve got to.”

Excitingly, their three-year Cultural Creative Residential Program is burgeoning a holistic and culturally grounded approach.

“So we develop the person, we embrace that; we offer them compassionate and empathetic opportunity to balance themselves so that they have longevity [in the art industry],” he said.

“So that they are working with culture. Working with their Ancestors. So they’re actually being taught as practicing artists, to become professional artists.

“So really important to paint ugly, really important to produce what comes out of you so really it’s about teaching people to get out of their own way.”

At the heart of this approach is deconstructing eurocentric approaches to artistic storytelling by embedding cultural lore at all stages.

“The power of painting with aligned individuals, creatives — you’ve got respect for without ego. Without all that carry on,” said Wiradyuri.

“As Ancestors are us, and we are Ancestors. Country is us, we are Country. This is our lore to practice. It’s only going to attract the individuals for whom that is lore; which is storytelling.

“It’s counterintuitive to the usual process of ‘break you down’, teach you the process of what’s been before.

“Someone could roll up, whose never had an art lesson – but just with the right attitude, mindset and attendance to cultural protocol; well off we go.

“You can create personal profile or you can create community, so we create community.”

By Rachel Stringfellow