In 2009 Gippsland Lakes Community Health (GLCH) and the Lakes Entrance Aboriginal Health Association (LEAHA) commissioned the first permanent public Aboriginal Art work for Lakes Entrance. Funded by both the State and local Governments, the Spirit Poles have stood proudly at the entranceway to the medical centre in Jemmeson Street for seven years. Made from Iron Bark poles donated by the Lake Tyers Aboriginal Trust the Spirit Poles represent the five clans of the Gunaikurnai people. Each pole is embellished with a carefully researched array of birds, animals and water creatures which represent that particular clan. Lead artist Frances Harrison reinterpreted the animal totems and shields into exquisite drawings for a team of Aboriginal Elders and youth to bring to life with hot wire burning and carving. Years of exposure to the weather has caused the hot wire burning to fade and despite attempts to re-burn them their visibility was almost lost.
“We were fortunate to get the original Artistic Director, Catherine Larkins, to come back to curate the restoration of the poles,” said Sue Medson, Chief Executive Officer at GLCH. “In consultation with the original lead artists Frances Harrison and Lennie Hayes, it was agreed that painting the animal totems with the traditional pallet of ochre colours would be a vibrant and more resilient solution.”
To preserve the cultural integrity of the work, several Aboriginal painters from the local community were recruited to carry out the restoration. Adam Hayes is leading the team of Jacob Saunders, Lisa Pickalla, Steven Parsons, Nadine Pickalla, Robert Andy, Richard Nelson and Robbie Coates, who are braving the cold June days to work on the Spirit Poles. “It is extremely fine and detailed work, but the results are stunning. Passers by and the GLCH waiting room audience are all thrilled to see the Spirit Poles come to life again,” added Ms Medson.
So next time you are going by, stop and admire the magnificent Spirit Poles and take a walk around to the two other Aboriginal art installations nearby on site – Camp Fire and Water Hole.