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Art and identity explored in TAFE NSW cultural arts program

TAFE NSW Katoomba

Art and identity explored in TAFE NSW cultural arts program

Artwork by Leanne Jones

TAFE NSW Katoomba is engaging Aboriginal artists in the Blue Mountains to share their stories through art in a unique “Painting up Country” program. 

The program was first initiated to build a sense of belonging for Aboriginal people at TAFE NSW Wentworth Falls, but due to popularity, the course has since moved to TAFE NSW Katoomba to service additional artists. It’s taught by Leanne Tobin, a proud Darug woman and highly regarded Aboriginal Artist in the Blue Mountains.

Leanne Jones is a proud Darug / Wiradjuri – Nygaampa woman and joined the Painting up Country class in 2020. She says she has thoroughly enjoyed learning more about herself, her culture and Aboriginal stories.

“Last year’s artworks were based on Indigenous plants and their uses, and it was very interesting to learn about these plants and how our old ones knew which were for healing, as well as the uses these plants had for our ancestors,” Leanne Jones said.

“We used that as inspiration to create some really interesting paintings that tell stories of our old ones and how they survived on their Country for over 60,000 years.”

The program collaborates with the Blue Mountains Aboriginal Culture and Resource Centre and Blue Mountains Council. TAFE NSW Head Teacher of Career Pathways and Employability Skills Jude Cooke said the Painting up Country project has provided a creative hub for the Blue Mountains Aboriginal community. 

“In 2020 we were on track for a NAIDOC exhibition despite the bushfires, then COVID hit hard. Through the exceptional commitment of the teacher and collaborators, we were able to finish the semester with students completing the Course in Vocational and Community Engagement and a body of work built for exhibition when COVID would allow,” Jude said.

“For the students, the program provided a positive focus including not only their work and stories being exhibited, but their works being sold.  

"This program has allowed us the opportunity to strengthen our relationships in the community and has opened doors for the students in the program to pathway into the Certificate II in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Arts.”

The class has completed some large paintings that are being displayed in Katoomba and Springwood Hospitals in the Palliative Care wards and are also exhibiting their work at Penrith Lewers Regional Gallery for NAIDOC week. Blue Mountains Cultural Centre, Blue Mountains City Council, and Colliers collaborated to enable a COVID-safe solution for the NAIDOC exhibition.                                                                                          

Leanne Jones says the course has been beneficial to her art practice as an established artist and she has learnt much from teacher Leanne Tobin, who she says is an incredible artist and teacher.

“It’s a wonderful environment for anyone who is interested in their culture and our stories are unique to each one of us,” Leanne Jones said. 

“We enjoy yarning with each other and learn a lot from each other because we all have stories of family secrets, of our family's dispossession, and of loss of language and culture.

“I travel for an hour from Kurrajong Heights to get to TAFE NSW Katoomba and really look forward to Mondays in Leanne’s class!”                                                                       

For enquiries related to the Painting up Country program please contact Jude Cooke at

To find out more about the Certificate II in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Arts at TAFE NSW, call 131 601 or visit  

Media contact: Alice Dalley, TAFE NSW Communications Specialist,, mobile 0402 528 210.