In Conversation with Debra Beale

Debra Beale’s art is a beautiful reflection of her rich cultural heritage as a Gamilaraay/Wonnarua and Yorta Yorta/Palawa woman. She creates stunning pieces that pay tribute to the Aboriginal tradition of storytelling through knowledge sharing, connection, and journey. Deb’s dedication to preserving and celebrating her culture is evident in every stroke of her brush.
‘When Excelsia College recently approached me with an invitation to create a stunning piece of art commemorating their 40th anniversary, I was humbled by the opportunity to contribute something that will be cherished by the College community for generations to come. The chance to leave my artistic imprint on the walls of a distinguished institution like Excelsia is truly an honour, and I am thrilled to bring my unique vision to this project.’

From producing her first painting in 1993 to later exploring textiles, murals and mixed media, Deb has experimented with various mediums over the years. But in everything she creates, one thing never fades: Deb’s deep connection with country, which fuels her incredible art.


Did you experiment a lot in your early days as an artist?


I realised art was a means through which I could express my experience by experimenting with sustainable and natural materials from our ‘ngayi parri’ (mother earth), Wonnarua language. All of my art is embedded with earthly and sky colours. Gathering natural materials from the earth has always been a form of meditation for me and a process that allows me to connect with the land and her inner deep self. Each step I take is a process of gathering my thoughts in regard to everyday life. This allows me to walk on my healing ‘yawa’ – journey (Boonwurung language) speaking with my ancestor and asking for guidance.

I speak through my art and my art speaks to me. I really want the paintings to be open-ended and mean different things to different people. I want them to be sort of a window or door into this beautiful, creative realm so people can encounter that atmosphere where anything is possible.


What is at the heart of your recent commissioned artwork for Excelsia College?


My commissioned artwork titled Spiritual Places is about reaching out to others and this is intertwined with one’s education journey.

Within Spiritual Places you can see these significant places which form the circles and pathways representing family, communities and education. The circle gives a sense of ‘connectiveness’ which holds strength and support for Aboriginal and Non-Aboriginal peoples to thrive and become great leaders. The background symbolises many pathways representing connections, relationships and growth formed over many years. The pathways represent a spiritual journey guided by the ancestors and the higher power. The circles hold an ancient living Aboriginal culture brought to the surface, symbolising a lifetime This document may be varied, withdrawn or replaced at any time. Printed copies, or part thereof, are regarded as uncontrolled and should not be relied upon as the current version. Anyone printing this document should refer to the website/QMS for the latest version. ©2017 Excelsia College. All Rights Reserved. ABN: 50 360 319 774 CRICOS Provider Code: 002664K of learning in a circle. Knowledge is held by the elders and passed down through generations of our people which I honour and pay my respect to.


Does community and Christianity play an important role in these times? How can we continue to connect?


I believe in God, the Father. I also believe in ‘Bunjil’ – ‘Biami’ our creator. My artworks speak of morals and beliefs and how these can be transformed into our daily lives. It speaks of education, learning new skills and applying important values. These skills are supported by our elders and leaders to provide opportunities for our young. Faith is the heartbeat of a community and, now more than ever, we need this belief and to connect through stories passed down by our ancestors.


‘These morals and connections are my identity,’ Deb says. ‘Mother Earth and Father Sky – this is where I draw inspiration.’

Through her painting, Deb has shown that the College is not only a place to learn but also a vital hub of community connection and impact.


‘Excelsia is thrilled to have commissioned Debra to paint a truly special and unique artwork that reinforces our commitment and values that contribute to the growth of our College. Deb’s work fitted perfectly the ethos of our College. This will forever be a snapshot of the College, showcasing its rich history,’ says Excelsia College’s CEO Peter McKeon.

‘Within the artwork you can see these significant places which form the circles and pathways representing family, communities and education.’

– Debra Beale