Understanding the Art of Place

Discover how we can understand and connect to place through art, and consider how a place can mean different things to different people.

When creating art, artists must decide what their artwork is about. Some artists choose to paint places they have visited, or environments that are important to them.

Read the information and watch the videos below to learn about the work of the Coomaditchie artists, and how they create artworks that speak of life in and around the settlement of Coomaditchie, and its history, ecology and local Dreaming stories.

Who are the Coomaditchie artists?

The artists are based inthe coastal settlement of Coomaditchie, nestled alongside Coomaditchie Lagoon in the southern suburbs of Wollongong. The Coomaditchie United Aboriginal Corporation was established here in 1993 to provide welfare and advocacy services. It is also active in art projects and community outreach. Through art, Coomaditchie’s Elders pass knowledge to younger generations and to the broader community, ensuring that the cultural and spiritual understanding of the Illawarra is retained and enriched. The artists’ work is found all over the Illawarra, in community spaces, buildings, landscapes, streets and galleries.

Watch the videos below to hear from two senior Coomaditchie artists, aunties Lorraine Brown and Narelle Thomas, and discover what place means to them.

Discussion questions

What does this place mean to you?

  • Why do Aunty Lorraine and Aunty Narelle create art of place?
  • What barriers have they had to overcome?

'Between the Mountains and the Sea'

Take a closer look at Lorraine Brown and Narelle Thomas’s 2008 artwork Between the Mountains and the Sea and notice the different ways in which they have demonstrated ideas of place.

  • After listening to the video and looking at the artwork, what features (including parts of the landscape, figures and other elements) can you identify in the painting Between the Mountains and the Sea?
  • Compare Between the Mountains and the Sea with another landscape artwork, Lake Illawarra, New South Wales (1866–68) by European artist Eugene von Guérard. These artworks show different perspectives on the same place in the Illawarra region
  • What similarities and differences do you notice between these artworks? Consider the use of colour and perspective and the features included in each artwork.

Art and reconciliation

  • How have the Coomaditichie artists have contributed to reconciliation in their community through their art and art-making process?

Activity: Design a postcard

Do you have a special connection to a particular place? Think about somewhere you’ve lived or visited that has left a lasting impression on you.

Postcard template

Step 1: Take a moment to think about this place. Close your eyes and picture all the details that make up this location (eg textures, colours, landmarks).

Step 2: Using materials and methods of your choice, such as pencils, paint or collage, create an artwork of your special place on the front of the postcard template provided.

Step 3: Write a message on the back of the postcard as if you’re writing from this location. Tell the person you’re sending the postcard to what makes it so special.

The Art of Place: Live Event

During Reconciliation Week 2024 (27 May – 3 June), Museums of History NSW hosted a live virtual event for stages 2 & 3, The Art of Place. The event explored place-based art at the Museum of Sydney as featured in the temporary exhibition Coomaditchie: The Art of Place, which was based on the exhibition commissioned by Wollongong Art Gallery in 2023. The session also explored historical records from the NSW State Archives Collection, contemporary First Nations perspectives and archaeology to address the significance and the contested nature of the site of the museum. The videos above featured in this event. The full event can be viewed below.

Coomaditchie Lagoon
First Nations

Coomaditchie: The Art of Place

The works of the Coomaditchie artists speak of life in and around the settlement of Coomaditchie, its history, ecology and local Dreaming stories

The mission, Lorraine Brown, 2007
First Nations

Coomaditchie: Of place

These works record the extraordinary arc the artists of Coomaditchie have travelled over more than three decades

Dragonflies, Meahala Langlo-Brown, 2022
First Nations

Coomaditchie: Lagoon stories

These panels detail the ecological life in and around Coomaditchie Lagoon

A view of the shacks on the Port Kembla end of the Official Camp

The fight for Coomaditchie

Listen to audio recordings and read transcripts of selected letters held in the State Archives Collection