A men's art class participant practices painting at the Willmot Community Hub

At our Willmot Community Hub in Western Sydney, up to a dozen Indigenous men have been gathering. Here, they paint canvases and Indigenous artifacts, and talk about their lives.

Delander Hayes, an Indigenous woman and coordinator of Jesuit Social Services’ Western Sydney programs, describes the classes as, “a therapeutic space – kind, soft and gentle”.

The classes offer a place where men who have led challenging lives can connect to culture and each other through artmaking. They enjoy the support of an Indigenous facilitator – Delander’s colleague, Leon – and a social worker. The idea came from the community.

“This is a part of Sydney where a lot of Indigenous people are disconnected from culture and identity in some way. A lot of nations were moved from their country lands to this area and displaced on  missions. There are a lot of people from different mobs and tribes living here,” Delander explains. “People were saying they wanted to connect with community and get better at cultural painting. It was really driven by community.”

"When men have the opportunity to connect to culture and community that’s good for the whole household – it benefits families and children too"

Delander Hayes

Coordinator - Western Sydney Programs

The classes have attracted men who otherwise would not have had such close contact with the Hub. “We know the families of some of these men but haven’t been able to build deeper relationships, until now. I’ve gotten to know the men better in the last ten months than I have in the past several years.

“Now if things get rough they have a connection to us and an expanded social support network of other Indigenous men,” Delander says.

The men’s art classes are part of a bigger project which aims to connect people to culture and community.

The team has coordinated children’s activities including a number of storytime events, dance workshops, and art activities based on Indigenous cultural stories and knowledge. Children dotpainted a six-metre snake and used tiles to create a rainbow serpent mural. The team has also coordinated dance classes, bush tucker gardening workshops, and women’s art classes.

Delander says there has been a lot of interest and excitement about the range and focus of the programs offered at the Hub, and engagement is high.

“We’ve had people say, ‘This has helped me feel pride in my culture’.”