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Heart Art

It started as curiosity over a sign on a door and became a project to improve the health and wellbeing of residents in the McKinlay Shire. Helen Lynch talks about the RADF project at Julia Creek and the impact it is having on the community… 

In 2014, while I was attending a conference in Cairns, I saw a sign on a door of one of the training rooms which read simply “Art Therapy Workshop”. Each time I walked past the door my curiosity and interest grew.  

A couple of friends were battling debilitating depression at the time, and I had a feeling this Art Therapy may help them and others in the McKinlay Shire.  

McKinlay Shire community in north west Queensland, based around the town of Julia Creek (population 500 approx), is about 650km west of Townsville. We pride ourselves on our friendliness and are known for it with the many grey nomads who camp here. However, the community is one of the many in regional Queensland severely affected by drought. The isolation and distance from services is a major hurdle to accessing specific treatment or therapy.

I made contact with principal art therapist and psychologist, Liz Antcliff who runs Heartspace Artspace and Counselling which offers techniques and exercises that give a way of allowing the inner knowledge and experiences we hold to be expressed through drawing, sculptures, collages, clay, paint etc. The idea is that expression helps us to see what’s going on and understand it, thereby allowing us to release our inner wounds to heal. A group environment also helps to connect with people and share stories. A great beauty of the process is that no artistic skill or experience is required to achieve a satisfying outcome by the participants.

After many emails with Liz, together we developed a project to introduce an art therapy program to McKinlay Shire community in 2015. With support from the Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF) and a scholarship from Liz, I began a certificate course in Initiatic Art Therapy to deliver art therapy sessions and build local capacity in the area.

In mid 2015, Liz travelled to Julia Creek and gave her time and expertise to run a weekend workshop for women from McKinlay Shire. We called it “Julia Creek Heart Art Gathering Space (Julia Creek HAGS)”. Ten women attended,  a successful ‘turn-up’ for the town, and, using sculpture, drawing painting and fabric, Liz directed the women to call on their intuition and inner guides to create a wide array of artwork. The work brought many surprises and comments:  

“I don’t know why I did that, but … I’ve always wanted to.”  

“ I hadn’t thought about that since I was a child …”  

“Liz has opened our hearts to our minds and our eyes”  Julia Creek HAGS participant, 2015.

Participants commented that they valued the non-threatening environment in which the workshops were undertaken. The workshop not only increased the skills of those involved but also increased self-esteem and pride. A series of sculptures by participants were displayed at a local art festival called Cultural Capers in September 2015.

Liz and I also spent four sessions at the aged care facility in the Multi Purpose Health Services in Julia Creek, where we worked both individually and on a group basis with the residents. This increased awareness of the role art can play in health and wellbeing and has led to greater collaboration with health and wellbeing professionals in the community.

What next for art therapy in Julia Creek?  An ongoing program in art therapy developed to suit the local community  and their needs is needed to get some big results, but just this introduction to our community has stirred a lot of interest.


Helen LynchHelen Lynch lives at Viola Station, Julia Creek.  She was the North West Qld Extension Officer for Greening Australia Qld Inc. for 5 years before settling at Viola Station to raise and educate her 3 children.  She is currently Chair of the McKinlay Shire RADF committee, and passionate to develop and nurture arts and culture in her community, knowing this pursuit may help to promote health and wellbeing in her regional McKinlay Shire.  Helen initially studied a Bachelor of Engineering (Civil), UQ, which gives her skills in project management and development for her current work in the community. Helen is currently in her second year of a two-year certificate course in Initiatic Art Therapy.

The Art Therapy Project was funded by RADF along with generous sponsorship and donations by Liz Antcliff.

Image on AQ blog main page: Cultural Capers Display. Image courtesy Helen Lynch.


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The Regional Arts Development Fund (RADF) is a partnership between local government and Arts Queensland to support arts and cultural experiences across Queensland. In recognition of RADF's 25th year, Arts Queensland will be celebrating its successes by sharing the many activities, communities and people supported through RADF