Project Compassion 2022: Janice’s story

21 March 2022


For each of the six weeks of Lent, the Diocese of Parramatta is sharing one of Caritas Australia’s feature stories of lives changed through support and empowerment programs.

Third Sunday of Lent – 20 March 2022

Janice, Australia


Janice, 44, is a proud Wagilak woman, a traditional dancer, living in a remote community in the Northern Territory. As elders grow older and pass away, she knows she must share her knowledge with the younger generation. However, the community faces multiple challenges, including a lack of jobs, limited educational opportunities, and socio-economic challenges which can lead to young people becoming disconnected from culture.

With your generous help, Caritas Australia is able to provide support to Djilpin Arts Aboriginal Corporation. The not-for-profit social enterprise established a contemporary arts and culture centre in the community. It provides employment and training for young people, a place for elders to pass on traditional knowledge, an art museum and authentic cultural experiences for tourists. Djilpin Arts Gallery and Museum is now a cultural hub where community members can gather in a spirit of peace and belonging.

44-year-old Janice is a traditional dancer who tells her family’s stories through movements which have been handed down over generations.

A Wagilak woman, Janice moved to a remote Northern Territory community as a young girl, when her mother was offered work in a kitchen near the local clinic.

“When I was about five, six or seven, my father taught me how to dance his culture, and then I had to learn to dance my mother’s culture too,” Janice says. “When I dance, I feel strong in my heart. It’s like my grandfather and my grandmother are here with me.”

Like many remote communities, Janice’s faces a range of challenges, including few jobs and educational opportunities, financial hardship, lower life expectancy and poorer health than the non-Indigenous population.

Australia’s national Indigenous employment rate is around 49 per cent. This figure is significantly lower in very remote areas, at 35 per cent [1], while just 66 per cent of Indigenous people aged 20-24 years have completed Year 12.[2]

Loss of land, language and culture and intergenerational trauma related to the ongoing effects of colonisation, can also contribute to socio-economic problems for young people in remote communities. Many others leave the community in search of work, moving to towns and cities where they may be more vulnerable.

“With many elders gone, we must transfer knowledge, to keep a connection to culture and nurture future leaders,” Janice says. “Sometimes we have trouble, just fighting,” Janice says. “Me and my family, we keep the culture going, we need to keep our culture strong.”

With your help, Caritas Australia is able to support Djilpin Arts Aboriginal Corporation, which has been operating a centre for traditional and contemporary Aboriginal visual and performing arts and culture in a remote area of the Northern Territory since 2002. It was established by the late Balang T. E. Lewis – the celebrated movie actor, musician and community member – and has been supported by Caritas Australia for around 14 years.

Djilpin Arts provides training and employment for young people who work in the art museum and shop. The museum features a permanent showcase of culturally significant West Arnhem Land artworks, while the shop sells traditional wood carvings, fibre art, prints and jewellery.

Elders run pandanus weaving and printmaking workshops, inspired by the colours of the environment, with designs featuring water lilies, turtles and fish. They share their knowledge with the younger generation, and visitors to the centre. Local guides run bush cultural tours and architect-designed tourist accommodation is available for visitors.

Janice has been a Djilpin Artsworker since 2015, performing traditional dances, as a host for performances and as a tour guide in the art museum. Her grandfather’s painting is on display there, while her brother runs cultural tours, her son plays the didgeridoo for cultural performances and her two daughters work in the shop.

“This is a safe place, a place we come with family and get away from problems. We, here in the art centre, work as a family,” Janice says. “It’s important to me because me and my brother, we got knowledge from our great grandfather, he told us to take care of your culture. It’s even more important for us to work here because we hold our culture here and we love this place.”

In 2021, with your support, Caritas Australia was also able to fund the launch of a Djilpin Arts shed in Katherine, to display and store artworks for shipping to online customers. COVID times have been particularly tough on remote communities, however, Djilpin Arts has been able to build up the online element of its business during the pandemic, helping communities to continue to make an income, even when there were few visitors.

“Janice has been a great supporter of Djilpin Arts, as a dancer. She also leads young people, young girls into dancing, and shares the knowledge of culture, and the artworks that the artists do, “ says Loretta George, Balang Lewis’ sister and Djilpin Arts Chair.

“Djilpin Arts, for me it’s been a big dream, from my brother. He talked about helping the community to come together, to help younger people get a job, and to bring our culture back to the people, because if there’s no elders around and there’s no one to teach the younger ones, we will lose all that and it will be lost forever,” Loretta says.

In the past year, the program has benefitted 55 people directly, and around 165 indirectly in the community.

Janice believes that Djilpin Arts’ work is essential to create opportunities for young people to stay on-country, to share intergenerational knowledge between elders and the younger generation – to promote healing, and to keep culture alive.

“Thank you very much, Caritas Australia.”

You can help people like Janice to keep traditional culture alive by making a donation through Project Compassion boxes and envelopes, visiting or phoning 1800 024 413.

With thanks to Caritas Australia.





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