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Dreaming in colour

Daniel Bouwmeester    February 13, 2023    6 min read   

A local First Nations artist has capped off a prolific year of output with a special gift for the tenth anniversary of YMCA Springfield Lakes that reflects a strong connection between land, culture, and people.

Springfield Lakes resident Jennifer “Jenny” Kent is the lead artist at Manamana Dreaming, a First Nations family group specialising in traditional yet contemporary Australian art works and design.

In November, Jenny created the artwork ‘Making Damper’ for the YMCA Springfield Lakes Community Centre to mark the 10th Anniversary of the building, part of a thoughtful commission arranged by Jordan MP Charis Mullen.

“[Charis] planned this gift months in advance because YMCA is very special to her heart, and they do so much for our youth of Springfield,” Jenny said.

It is a bright pastel-coloured piece representing the act of “passing on knowledge” – specifically of the ancient traditional bread-making process – and perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the YMCA.

It depicts water holes, digging sticks, gardens of grain for harvest, coolamons (bark water vessels), grinding stones, wrapping leaves, and shelter.

Ms Mullen praised Jenny’s artistry, calling her “uber-talented”.

“Jenny is an incredible local First Nations artist whose pieces tell a unique and meaningful story.

‘Making Damper’ by Jennifer Kent. Image: Manamana Dreaming.

“I was blown away by ‘Making Damper’, which I know will take pride of place in the Centre and can be enjoyed by our local community.”

In receiving the painting, a representative from the YMCA thanked the two women for their contribution, with plans to display it in the Community Centre foyer.

“We are so looking forward to hanging it [inside the Centre] so the community can enjoy such a beautiful piece of work. The piece is truly stunning.”

Jenny launched her professional art career in 2017 and created Manamana Dreaming in 2020 after developing a passion for painting in her schooling days in Townsville. She has lived in Goodna for about 15 years before moving to Springfield Lakes, which she calls “an awesome suburb”.

Image: Charis Mullen MP.

Her eagerness to support YMCA Springfield Lakes is no surprise. Not only does she live nearby, but she herself is a mum with an extensive background in children’s education.

“Wherever my children have gone to school, I’ve just gotten a job there!”

With Irish, English, French, Chinese, and Baltic lineage, and growing up in the areas of Mount Isa, Cloncurry, Townsville, Mackay, and Beenleigh, Jenny identifies as a multicultural Australian, with First Nations ancestry from the Quandamooka, Jinibara, Wakkawakka, and Dharumbal Nations to name a few. 

“My ‘old people’ [family] have connections to the Springfield area and all throughout Queensland,” she explained.

Jenny described her old people’s history of travelling great distances via the waterways to harvest food north towards Woodford during the triennial bunya nut season, and east to Moreton Bay for the annual mullet season.

“Our old people built ancient highways and there is one that I know of that travels from Springfield to Cleveland. Also, creeks and rivers were used as highways to travel by canoe and Woogaroo Creek connects to the Maiwar Brisbane River.”

Leaving a mark

Jenny’s contribution then to the school uniforms and team house designs for the new Woogaroo Creek State School opening this year is therefore fitting.

Woogaroo Creek Primary School principal Kendall Seccombe said Jenny’s work represents the school’s strong connection to the land.

Images: Woogaroo Creek State School.

“Jenny has been working with our team to design this artwork that represents our school, our school’s narrative and will be featured on our school School House shirts for our new school at Augustine Heights,” Ms Seccombe said.

Jenny explained that the word ‘Woogaroo’ is in fact a Yuggera Language word meaning “a cool and shady place”.

These recent pieces follow a remarkable year for Jenny, having presented new art and designs to a huge variety of local, state, and national organisations.

She designed the art and logos for the Reconciliation Action Plans for the Queensland Performing Arts Centre (QPAC), Queensland Children’s Activity Network (QCAN) headquartered in Ipswich, and Brisbane Catholic Education (BCE). She also created clothing and logo art for ‘Jaghu’ – a maternity birthing unit at Ipswich Hospital.

In his role as Speaker of the House, Oxley MP Milton Dick commissioned a painted coolamon that he presented to Caroline Kennedy – US Ambassador to Australia and daughter of former President John F. Kennedy, Jr. – which Jenny said was a “great honour”.

Some of her most celebrated achievements are her community murals, which she has completed for many schools across Brisbane, including Forest Lake State High School and Camira Kindergarten – a facsimile of which was used for Mr Dick’s Christmas cards.

The murals are of special significance to Jenny because they usually include places for members of the community to add their thumb prints – an artistic stamp that has a long history in First Nations paintings.

Milton Dick MP making his impression at the unveiling of the Camira Kindy mural. Images: Milton Dick MP.

“I was so honoured to be offered the chance to place my thumbprint on the artwork today, joining the many children, families, and staff [who] have contributed to the piece in this way,” Mr Dick said.

“It’s such a beautiful way to symbolise the commitment of the community to inclusion and reconciliation through art.”

Jenny Kent with Charis Mullen MP and Camira Kindergarten director Jill Powel. Image: Camira Kindergarten.

Camira Kindergarten director Jill Powel said reconciliation and inclusion are a priority.

“As part of our Kindy Uplift funding, we approached Jenny Kent from Manamana Dreaming to create an authentic and meaningful artwork that reflects the many different people in our community who contribute in their own unique way to make this kindergarten a beautiful place of learning, connection, and belonging for everyone who comes through our doors,” Ms Powel said.

Encouraging people to get involved is part of the shared learning process, Jenny explained – not just for young people, but for people of all ages and backgrounds.

“Our murals of belonging are Glorious projects designed to strengthen communities.”

“The vision that a community, consisting of a broad range of roles and cultures uniting together to create an artwork that celebrates Australian First Nations Peoples is a valued commitment to Reconciliation and the Australian Dream.”

“Reconciliation is everyone’s responsibility. By adding a thumbprint on the wall, it signifies that you belong and you are important – your imprint matters – and we can choose to build a community that is truly beautiful by moving forward together.

“The murals remain as a reminder that even one small imprint can make the most beautiful and significant difference.”

Daniel Bouwmeester

Daniel was born in a mining town in New South Wales to Dutch and Welsh immigrants, before relocating to Logan City, where he attended Canterbury College for twelve years. He pursued his passion for music by completing a first-class honours degree at the University of Queensland (UQ), and later signed with a local record label. He has travelled the world from a young age, including a student exchange in rural France, a job working the ski lifts in Colorado, and visits to the islands of the South Pacific. After a six-year career in market research, Daniel returned to UQ to complete a Bachelor of Journalism and Arts dual degree, majoring in political science. His varied experiences at home and abroad have contributed to a passion for spreading good news while defending the truth buried inside complex societal paradigms.