This project is the result of a two-year collaboration between Tuggeranong Community Arts (TCA), Southern Tablelands Arts (STArts), Yass Youth Association, four schools and the Yass Valley Council, including local Indigenous elder Eric Bell, who is a member of the Council's Indigenous Consultative Committee.
Prelimary planning began in late 2002 when TCA's Community Arts Officer Eulea Kiraly met with STArts RADO Lizz Murphy and Eric Bell. The discussion was then opened to the Remix Team, a largely Indigenous group of at-risk young people associated with the Yass Youth Centre. The project was to be linked to existing community murals, featuring Indigenous motifs, which had already be painted on the Hume Bridge that crosses the Yass River in the middle of town. The Yass Valley Council was supportive of the project and TCA was successful in its funding application to the Commonwealth Government's Regional Arts Fund.
In early 2003, project artist Kylie Ramsay was engaged to work with the children of Yass to create mosaic panels for the opposite bridge face and for the tops of existing concrete picnic tables in the park. Youth workers Bill Murphy from Yass Youth Centre and April Masters from TCA, along with photographer Joe Lafferty and Eulea Kiraly completed the team.
Eric visited local schools to tell stories of his childhood experiences of the river to the Year 5/6 students of Berinba Primary School, Mt Carmel College and Yass Public School. Young people from art classes at Yass High School and the Yass Youth Centre were also involved. The children then did some preliminary drawings based on Eric's stories and their own responses to the river and the idea of reconciliation. Meanwhile, Kylie began teaching them the basic techniques of mosaic making. The Remix Team visited several mosaic sites in Canberra including those at the Australian War Memorial, the Canberra Hospital and at Tuggeranong Arts Centre.
Kylie then drew together all the ideas that the children had presented to come up with a cohesive, colourful design featuring local flora and fauna including possums, lizards, snakes, fish, wombats, dragonflies and frogs. The panels progressed from pre-dawn to midday and back to night with the river a constant but changeable motif, as were the black footprints that led us along. Each of the panels included a word – the steps we must take to achieve reconciliation – listening, honesty, understanding, respect, trust, friendship.
Throughout 2004, Kylie regularly visited the four schools and the youth centre to work with the children and young people on their panels. The project was also assisted by a group of keen mosaic makers from Tuggeranong. Tile by tile, the panels came together and by Term 4 the grouting was ready to be done. With assistance from Council workers, the panels were secured and exotic weeds were removed from around the site by a Green Corp group. The local media ran several stories and pictures as the work neared completion.
On Saturday 20 November, the children officially handed over their artwork to the town before a large audience as part of the Yass River Festival. Balloons, fairy bread and plenty of smiles were all a part of the day! In December and January, an exhibition photographs taken during the project will be on display at the Yass Library then be transferred to the Tuggeranong Arts Centre in February 2005.