"There's a cultural responsibility inherent in everything we do."
This is one of the many careful sentiments of Brisbane-based Wiradyuri artist Birrunga Wiradyuri, who is one of four exhibitors with works currently on display at the Bathurst Regional Art Gallery [BRAG].
Birrunga's exhibition, Ngurang Buwugarra-gu Gudhi-dha Murruway, Wiradyuri Ngaanha, translates into 'coming home on songline Wiradyuri lens', and describes his personal connection to culture with reference to key geographic and historic sites of Wiradyuri significance around Bathurst.
"When you create works for public exhibition around sensitive cultural values, it is of the utmost importance that they are founded within the Wiradyuri principles of 'yindyamarra'," Birrunga said.
'Yindyamarra' comprises five elements: respect, be polite, do slowly, be gentle and show honour.
"As a Wiradyuri artist, everything needs to be culturally solid and in my case, it's an ongoing journey," Birrunga said.
Birrunga shares a close relationship with Bathurst's Wiradyuri elders, who play a significant role in the cultural consultation process for much of his work.
"I was introduced to the elders in 2015 through Professor Mark McMillan [senior law lecturer at the University of Melbourne and proud Wiradyuri man], who'd played a key role in taking conservative commentator Andrew Bolt to task over breaching the Racial Discrimination Act in 2011," he said.
"As I started painting [in 2012], Mark helped me make sense of Wiradyuri spirituality and connecting to the spirits of our ancestors, eventually leading to a workshop at CSU, which Mark invited me to."
"I met Uncle Bill Allen [Dinawan Dyirribang], and he immediately recognised me as Wiradyuri, and the elders made an extraordinary impression on me and helped me understand there's more to Wiradyuri art than simply putting paint on canvas."
Birrunga's central motto, 'if not for me, than whom?', is a key driver for his work within the Wayne Weaver Foundation, a charity providing pro bono pre and post release support to Indigenous prisoners in a number of privately and state run correctional facilities.
"The motto relates to the importance of being of service to those in need, and I began to test this motto out as a palliative care volunteer, before moving on to incarcerated Indigenous Australians," he said.
"Queensland's prison system is unique in the sense there's no pre-release or community release programs [you're on parole for life], so that's why I go into prisons, unescorted, to engage with the inmates and listen to their stories without judgement."
"There's a lot of misinformation around Indigenous Australians in Queensland prisons; the vast majority are eminently workable and no one seems to be doing anything about it."
Birrunga's own gallery, Birrunga Gallery & Dining, is the only Indigenous-owned and operated commercial cultural hub in Brisbane's CBD, and plays a vital role in training, employing and developing Indigenous Australians.
"Our head chef is a Waka Waka lad [north of Brisbane], our apprentice chef descends from both the Dunghutti and Bundjalung mobs [northern NSW], one of our senior baristas a Yow Yeh from up Mackay way and the list goes on" he said.
"We also have a Cultural Development Residency program for the arts, which sees Indigenous Australians participate over a three-year period."
"We've got 60/40 Indigenous/non-Indigenous staff and we hosted 98 events within 107 business days last year."
The cafe's menu makes use of native ingredients and the venue is a key contributor to Brisbane's cultural tourism sector.
Birrunga's exhibitionwill be on display at BRAG until Sunday, December 6.