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31st May 2024 Latest News

Art program helps foster connections

Wayne Whitfield resized

Art as a form of expression can hold many different meanings and interpretations. 

For Wayne Whitfield – a Ngarrindjeri man, Vietnam veteran and member of the Stolen Generations – that meaning is connection. 

Connection to his ancestors, to fellow veterans, the viewer, and to himself.  

“I was brought up in a mission home and at age 13 I was adopted by a caring couple. Although my parents were good to me, I wandered through life without direction,” he said. 

“I served in Vietnam in 1971 and the effects of those experiences still play a major part in my life today.” 

About seven years ago, Wayne was introduced to The Hospital Research Foundation (THRF) Group – Creative Health’s visual arts tutor Kaz Pedersen while an inpatient at the Jamie Larcombe Centre (JLC). 

Wayne with one of his works at the Art Studio.

Kaz was facilitating art practice sessions at JLC and Wayne had been painting for a few years at that point, so a couple of his mates encouraged him to come along and give it a go. 

He’s been coming every week since. 

While an outsider might view the Veterans Art Program as just a group of veterans getting together to paint, Wayne says it’s much more than that. 

“If we can put some of our feelings or stories in our artwork, it makes it all better,” he said. 

“Most of the vets I know, we’ve all been through the same experiences, and we all suffer in our own way, but with the painting we communicate with each other. Whether someone is drawing a boat or I am drawing fire, we are both doing the same thing, trying to express where we are going in life.” 

Wayne’s outlook on life changed dramatically when he was contacted by his biological family, which helped him to understand more about himself and his Ngarrindjeri ancestors. 

Wayne’s art is his own self-taught style of Aboriginal dot painting which features the heavy use of bright and vivid colours, inspired by the vibrancy of the land and sky after spending a night atop Uluru. 

Through THRF Group – Creative Health, Wayne has been able to exhibit and sell his work at the Lyell McEwin Hospital and was a finalist in the Creative Health Art Prize in 2021 and 2023. 

“The Art Program has helped me mentally and physically, it’s helped my confidence and brought me closer to other veterans,” he said. 

“By you gaining confidence, it opens another chapter. Relaxation and sharing my art gives me satisfaction and meaning to my life, and those are some of the reasons I love to paint.” 

The Veterans Art Program is a joint venture between THRF Group charities Creative Health and Military and Emergency Services Health Australia. 

It takes place every Monday, between 10.30am and 4pm, at the Art Studio at Fullarton Park Community Centre and is funded by our generous donors.