Brett Groves felt he had come home when he arrived in the Blue Mountains having lived in inner Sydney since he left home at age 16. Having had a career spanning horticulture, finance and exhibitions, it was the pandemic that led him to creating his first pieces of art. An unexpected encounter with the Catholic Church has changed some of his thinking, as well as bringing his life full circle.
“The first time I painted a dot, I felt this instant connection to culture I’d never felt before,” he says. The Wiradjuri born man – now calling Darug/Gundungurra land home and his place of work – and talented artist behind the design of the new ‘Parramatta Way’ Statement of Safeguarding had not until 2020, attempted to paint before. When he explains the reason why, it is sobering to listen to.
Growing up, Brett’s Aboriginal culture was not celebrated or even recognised. In fact, he and his family experienced severe racism that has been part of the Aboriginal experience for generations. He tells of mothers taking their children out of the pool when his family arrived at the local swimming pool when he was a little boy. Even as a young adult he was advised to keep his heritage quiet at work. His design career was focused on creating commercial exhibition stands, but nothing to do with Aboriginal art. When the pandemic hit, exhibitions closed and he and his team needed to reinvent themselves. At this point, his colleague suggested he try painting, and the rest is history.
He has built a successful gallery, The Wow Factor Home, in Leura in the Blue Mountains and as well as art, has created products inspired from Indigenous bush tucker and medicinal plants and takes commissions such as the one from the Diocese of Parramatta.
He would have liked to have gone to church, “I thought the local church looked brilliant”, he says, but felt excluded and judged as a young man. He admits that the commission to do the art by the Diocese confused and even confounded him a little, until he learned of how seriously the Catholic Church in Parramatta was taking its Safeguarding obligations.
“I have to feel it’s ‘right’,” he says of his work. “I had seen friends lives damaged by the Church growing up. But when Tracy (McLeod-Howe, Head of Safeguarding in the Diocese) started explaining what the Diocese was doing with Safeguarding, I said ‘Get me on board’”.
“When I read The Parramatta Way, I felt this is what God would have wanted, this is how it should have been. It’s righting the wrongs of the past and making sure it never happens again. It is so inclusive, and I want to be part of that,” he says.
While painting the art for the Diocese, memories of his upbringing in Mt Druitt came flooding back. “All I could hear in the background (of my mind) was my aunt singing the ‘Parramatta’ song, the one that teaches children how to spell the name ‘Parramatta’,” Brett laughs.
He puts on the music of Gurrumul (acclaimed musician Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu) as he paints. “The music is healing,” he says. “It brings out the story of the painting.”
Brett is a dad to a young son and has also been a foster parent to children – a demonstration of his own commitment to ensuring children get a good start in life.
The story of the art
Brett explains the story of the art he has created and how each of the elements has significance to the Diocese.
“People (depicted in the art as Aboriginal symbols – red ‘u’s on the left side of the picture) in Rome, came together to talk of the right the wrongs of the past and protect the people young and old. In the picture, these people from Rome surround an adult and child in the centre.
“Forty-eight gold crosses represent the 46 parishes, the District of Marsden Park, as well as the Holy Spirit Seminary at Harris Park within the Diocese of Parramatta. The key geographical features that represent the physical Diocese are the Three Sisters (in the bottom left corner) and the two major waterways, the Nepean River and Parramatta River (depicted as blue circles, surrounded by people (the red ‘u’s) on the right of the image).
“The parishes are linked, symbolising a united front to Safeguarding in the Diocese, and are similar to rosary beads used in prayer. The gold sun in the centre of the image represents the Lord shining his light over the road ahead (represented by the gold, blue and red lines) for the thousands of Catholics and others in the Diocese who the Diocese is committed to keeping safe.”
The art featuring The Parramatta Way Commitment to Safeguarding will be displayed in the Bethany Centre in 2022. In the meantime, it will feature on Diocesan websites, including the Diocese of Parramatta Safeguarding website. You can download a copy here.