The gallery idea comes from 37 mainly Barkindji men and women who are transforming a dusty town park in Wilcannia in western New South Wales. It will become Reconciliation Park, a green, welcoming space with picnic tables, a playground, barbecues and large-scale Aboriginal artworks by local artists. From the comfort of their cars, people will be able to enjoy the art, which will reflect what reconciliation means to the artists.

There’s this misconception that Wilcannia is a bad place, so if we can get people to drive through and see how good it is, they’ll hopefully stay for a while and contribute to the local economy, says Wilcannia Community Development Employment Project (CDEP) manager Trevor Johnstone.

Johnstone, a Nyampa man from nearby Menindee, says when the Central Darling Shire Council first told him it had funding to develop Reconciliation Park, he and local community members jumped at the idea of using the space to show local art.

Wilcannia CDEP participants started drafting plans for the drive-through gallery last year and consulted with the wider community, talking through issues with a few people who initially opposed the idea. Wiradjuri man Terry Doolan was one of the CDEP Participant Committee members who assisted and saw plans for the park progress through council. He says the group wanted to value-add to the town and put Aboriginal culture front and centre.

Barkindji people want to see their Aboriginal culture on display “ people will be able to see these big artworks from the hospital rooms across the road and tourists will see it when they drive through, Doolan says. Others in the community can get involved by contributing artworks that showcase reconciliation.

We have now got wonderful dialogue and understanding with the council. We are delighted to have ownership of the park and to work on this from start to finish. It’s a two-and-a-half year process and we’re in it for the long haul.

I am so proud of the community’s efforts on this project and the positive outcomes, Johnstone says. These little communities have missed out for too long, and it’s all about changing that.