Who is Mardijbalina?
My name is Zoe Fitzpatrick and I am a Yanyuwa and Garrawa woman from Borroloola and Alice Springs in the NT. I am from a big family of nine siblings, which means my childhood was nothing short of boring, as it was spent camping, hunting, fishing, swimming in the sea, surrounded by nature, learning and being apart of cultural ceremonies and traditions in my country.
I had to leave Borroloola at a young age to go to boarding school in Alice Springs, then after school I worked for a year then went straight into university in Adelaide to study nursing in 2017. This all came at a heavy price as I had to choose education over culture for basically my whole life, until I found a way to do both.
I started painting with my mum in Borroloola when I was 15, but didn’t start painting on my own and more frequently until I was 19 and living in Adelaide on my own. At the time I was living in an unknown city and I felt very disconnected from my country, culture and family and painting was my way to be able to connect with that part of me that was missing.
Once I got started, I fell very quickly in love with painting, and figured out that deep down I had this creative side of me that I never knew existed until I put a paintbrush to a canvas.
Over the last 4 years of painting, I’ve developed my own style that flows through all my paintings, however as I grow and learn as an artist, I have developed new techniques and styles too but tend to keep my primary style alive in each painting I create. I find that my paintings tend to represent the different seasons and weather we get in Borroloola and what effect it has on the country. This is something I grew up learning about and experiencing first hand, and for each season I get different feelings and emotions and I tend to trace my childhood memories better by remembering what the weather was like at the time. These are my special memories of home that I try to tell the story of through my paintings.
Painting was not only a way for me to connect to my culture but had many other benefits to add to my whirl wind of a life whilst studying. Painting was an escape from the demanding, mentally challenging and difficult times I dealt with my nursing degree. Where I am from it is very uncommon to go to University, and I found navigating my way through was an enormous challenge for me that I failed and failed at many times until I finally made it through after four years of struggling to understand how the system works. I discovered painting about a third of the way through of my degree and looking back now I just know that it definitely was a healthy way for me to unwind and reset. It allowed me to deal with my homesickness and that strong yearning for country that many Aboriginal people feel when away from home for a long time. Sometimes, dealing with that feeling was overwhelming and there were many times where I felt like I needed to give up, go back home and try something else on country to feel better. Once I started painting this urge settled into the background and I was able to focus more on my studies.
It also was something special for my mum and I to bond over as she is an Aboriginal artist herself. We got to share each other’s work, give ideas, swap stories and with that it gave me an easy pathway to start learning more intently about my culture again through my mum and from a distance.
I am now currently living back in Alice Springs, working as a Registered Nurse and an Aboriginal artist on the side. This is beyond anything I thought I could have ever accomplish but I am very proud of how far I’ve come. I work with my people everyday as a nurse and I wouldn’t have it any other way as this is exactly why I chose to study health. I hope to inspire other Aboriginal people along the way that it is possible to get a higher education in any field and that with a little push out of your comfort zone and finding a way to navigate through the homesickness and the deep yearning for country will be worth it in end. I also would like to show other Aboriginal artists that it is possible to start your own business and be in control of your art, finances and the direction you want it to go. Unfortunately, a lot of Aboriginal artists are taken advantage of because they don’t have the same resources as I do to start their own business, so they have to rely on non-indigenous organisations to take that control. I hope that one day more artists will have this opportunity, and am passionate in finding ways to help.
Now that my studies are completed, I now use painting as a way to unwind from work as I’ve come into nursing at a very difficult time with the pandemic going on. I am learning how to be the best nurse that I be, and some days are tougher than others but I am grateful to have my art to use a de-stress tool. Creating paintings for people brings me so much joy, and the feeling I get when I get lost into a painting is very special and something I wish I could share with others. I have had so much support from people I know to complete strangers in other parts of the world, and I can’t thank everyone enough for their kind words. I am looking forward to the future and the different opportunities that may arise for Mardijbalina art and Nurse Zoe.
Thank you for listening to my story.