Art commission brightens Townsville Hospital’s new renal unit
September 16, 2021
Townsville Hospital and Health Service have recently enhanced the reception and hallways of their brand new renal unit with stunning artworks from First Nations artists Billy Missi, Gertrude Deeral and Syd Bruce Shortjoe.
When imagining a hospital, one might typically picture a sterile, stark-white environment. In recent times, hospitals are often brimming with colourful paintings, prints, murals and textiles, with the intention to brighten what might be for some a dull or stressful experience away from home.
The Copyright Agency worked closely with Townsville Hospital, the artists and their respective art centres to achieve this new licensing commission, which includes a feature wall at reception, chairs adorning textile designs and a print reproduction on a laminate glass wall, all providing an injection of First Nations culture from near communities, telling unique stories of the lands across from the Torres Strait Islands to Pormpuraww and Hopevale, all north of Townsville.
The wall mural at reception is the work of the late Billy Missi (1970-2012), a renowned Zenadh-Kes (Torres Strait Islander) printmaker. Depicted on the walls is Ganai Au Kubi (Flock of Torres Strait Pigeons) 2008.
Missi’s style of printmaking is striking and bold. Known for his intricate storytelling of hunting, eco-systems and connection to land, his works are often based on stories which have been passed down orally from generations by his ancestors:
“In Zenadh Kes (the Torres Strait) since time immemorial, seasonal timeframes were always told by sightings of animals, birds, changes in vegetation, tides, rains and the constellations. This image is about Gainau (Torres Strait pigeons) crossing over from Papua New Guinea’s Western Province, south to Cape York’s east and west coasts.
When these sightings occur, it indicates to our people that the Soalal (turtle mating) season is on, and the sharks are carrying eggs. It is when they are vicious and touchy”.
The feature wall is contrasted wonderfully with Gertrude ‘Gertie’ Deeral’s Yarrun (wattle flower) textile design upholstered to the reception chairs in warm, earthy shades.
Having taken up painting at the age of 73, Gertie is relatively new to art, and is a senior artist at the Hopevale Arts and Culture Centre. Growing up in Hopevale and other parts of Queensland, she has learned to observe nature from older generations, to get a sense of of when the seasons are changing:
“This design is wattle. When the flower is in bloom, sea urchin, and fish too, they get fat. And they’re ready to eat, you get that fat. The oysters and the shells. I don’t know what time (of year) it is but our grandfathers and grandmothers or our fathers and mothers didn’t know, they would just look at the flowers”.
The finishing touch is the laminate glass wall reproduction of Minha Konkon (the Kookaburra) by Pormpuraaw artist Syd Bruce Shortjoe, who is so well known for his print work that he goes by the moniker of Mr Lino.
“Minha Konkon means Kookaburra in Kugu Language. When we hear Kookaburras join together in song it means someone has died or is about to die. It means bad things are coming and we need to get ready for it. Many inland fresh water people have the Kookaburra as their totem.”
The contributions to the renal unit by these three immensely talented First Nations artists creates a serene atmosphere that is a reminder of the simplicity of nature. It aims to maintain a calm space to welcome patients and visitors, and to put their minds at ease with scapes and stories of local Northern Queensland flora and fauna.