• 21-year old Maggie-Jean Douglas has extra reason to celebrate NAIDOC this year. (Supplied. )Source: Supplied.
"Heal Country!" is the theme for NAIDOC this year. It's something that hits close to home for the young artist.
By
Dan Butler

Source:
NITV News
30 Jun 2021 - 3:36 PM  UPDATED 30 Jun 2021 - 3:36 PM

NAIDOC is a special time of year for Maggie-Jean Douglas. 

“It’s up there with Christmas and Easter for me!” she laughs. 

“I’ve always loved it, my primary school actually used to be very into (celebrating NAIDOC), we would do something every day for the whole week. It was a very big event.”

But this year, she’s got an extra spring in her step. Douglas designed the official 2021 NAIDOC poster. Soon she’ll be seeing her work in 10 foot banners around the country. 

“It’s very exciting. I couldn’t believe it when they told me!”

Douglas was announced as the winner of the annual poster competition in March, and received $10,000 in prize money; not bad for a part-time artist with no formal training. 

“I just started (making art) when I moved away from home.

“I just gave it a go really, after doing some research.”

Douglas' full-time job is with the National Indigenous Australians Agency, the peak body reporting to government on policy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and implementing Closing the Gap initiatives. 

The 21-year-old is a Gubbi Gubbi woman, who grew up on Gureng Gureng land. She knows the importance of maintaining connection to Country. 

“I moved to Canberra about three years ago, but I have to go back home at least three times a year, just to get the proper rest that my heart needs.”

She says it’s something she kept front of mind while creating her winning artwork: the theme for this year’s celebrations is “Heal Country!”

“The first thing I thought about (when creating the work) is how Australia has a lot of natural medicines, and ways of healing. I thought about... how people have used that to heal ourselves spiritually, physically, emotionally, all those things. 

“(That was) my first thought, and I resonate with that because that’s the way I feel: out of sorts when I haven't had enough connection to Country.”

The work is incredibly detailed. On closer inspection, you can find many elements: bush resources, like wattle, eucalyptus, witchetty grubs and Lilly Pilly berries; the tracks of animals like emus and kangaroos, “part of the ecosystem,” says Douglas; and all throughout, the circles of people gathering.

That is the healing that takes place when family and community gather on Country. 

But gathering is an issue again this year, with NAIDOC once more being stymied by the pandemic.

The annual NAIDOC awards, cancelled outright last year, were postponed again last week as COVID cases crept up in Sydney. With much of the country in lockdown, it’s hard to say just which events will be going forward. 

But Douglas is staying optimistic. 

“The NAIDOC ball has been cancelled, but I know... there is a family day (planned) that will have a lot of activities and entertainment and food here in Canberra.

“Mostly it’s a chance to be around my other Indigenous colleagues, I want to see what they’re doing out in the community.”

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