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Not just a pretty picture: Moree East mural a symbol for life, love and reconciliation

All who enter Moree East Public School will be greeted by a beautiful mural which was lovingly painted on the footpath at the entrance to the school over the recent holidays.

The mural, created as part of the school's contribution to NAIDOC Week this year, is not only aesthetically beautiful, but highly symbolic for the whole Moree community and will be used as a key teaching tool as part of Moree East's Connected Communities program.

"It all started when I came up with the idea to make the entrance to our school a beautiful one," Moree East Public School principal Lorinda Potter said.

"We always do something for a purpose, so I met with Uncle Matty [Priestley] our senior leader and talked about a mural.

"Our school is trying hard to find a balance between language, culture and education and we've recently taken a new approach through our 'tenDance program.

"So the mural would not only have a purpose but could be a teaching tool.

"We wanted something that would not only engage our kids but engage the rest of the community in the richness of culture we've got in Moree."

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So Mrs Potter and Uncle Matty enlisted the help of student support officer and artist Chris 'Uncle Bus' Roberts to come up with a design to reflect what they wanted to achieve and spent 18 months consulting with students, staff, parents, the school reference group, the sisters group, traditional owners, local community members and anyone who visited the school.

The mural features a large tree running up the left footpath with various native animals, while the right footpath is representative of the Mehi River, with water symbolising the cycle of life and teaching children about biodiversity.

Underneath the tree roots there are water droplets, representing all of Moree's hidden waterways and artesian water.

"It tells the story of how the Mehi was made," Uncle Matty explained.

A key educational tool of the mural is the storytelling aspect - "that painting tells thousands and thousands of stories," Uncle Matty said.

Perhaps the most prominent story is the Diamond Tree yarn, which Uncle Matty and Uncle Bus grew up hearing on the mission at Stanley Village.

"There's a big tree there that everyone called the diamond tree," Uncle Matty said.

"There was no diamond in there, not in the sense that we think. But it's the story of the start of mankind and tells the story of death and how death became our country and how the tree became a star, a diamond in the sky, and you can follow it through nighttime every season of the year. We have 19 to 20 different seasons in Moree that rotate around the year."

That story will be one of many that Uncle Matty will tell the students, using the mural as a teaching tool.

Mrs Potter said it also represents the timeline for the Moree community, with our present future and stories about the past intertwined.

There are also different animal tracks, representing each age group at the school.

"We've used icons that are important to us and our community and have a connection to our school community," Mrs Potter said.

"We wanted something visually engaging and beautiful. The colour choice was also specific, with the colours matching the colours of our school."

The mural was painted using non-slip paint which can be drawn on with chalk, allowing teachers to conduct all sorts of different lessons on the mural with children able to write and draw on it and then rub it off for the next class.

There are only two words in the whole painting - Yaama, meaning 'hello' or 'welcome' in Gamilaraay language which people will read as they enter the school, and Yaluu, meaning 'see you soon' or 'see you again' which will be read on leaving the school gates.

"So people will be welcomed and then we'll see them again, expecting that cycle to continue," Mrs Potter said.

The mural has evolved throughout the whole process, from design to painting, and Mrs Potter said it will continue to evolve with bigger plans in the works.

Eventually, the school wants to invite every single person in the community to put their thumbprint on the painting as a raindrop.

"Water is gali - it's the main thread of life and our thumb prints are individual, so if we put them all together it will create a ripple effect; it creates love and our 'tenDance program is based on water and love," Mrs Potter said.

"It's not just a pretty picture, there's more to it.

"It's a true reconciliation process.

"We're trying to welcome everyone. We think it's a very powerful tool for our whole community. Everyone should own this, every single person in the community. That's what it's about."

To paint the mural, the school engaged the help of Brisbane mural artist Emmanuel Moore, who has created a number of the murals around Moree and is passionate about the town.

Local elder Uncle Cecil Craigie, who is part of the school's reference group, also helped paint it over the two weeks of the school holidays and became a major contributor to the mural by chance.

"I met Uncle Cecil at Woolies and was telling him about the mural, so he came to have a look and ended up here for two weeks," Mrs Potter explained.

"He did a lot of promotion of the mural."

"He talked to every single person who walked past the gates," Uncle Matty added.

The mural was completed in time for the students' return to school for term three, and since it has been finished, the school has been overwhelmed by the positive feedback.

"The kids just love it," Mrs Potter said.

"The Facebook post about the mural has generated the most views and shares we've ever had. It has reached 11,250 people just on its own, and has had 65 shares. That's made us really excited."