2021 First Peoples Melbourne Art Trams

In partnership with Public Transport Victoria and Creative Victoria

The Melbourne Art Trams Program returns in 2021 with all designs by First Peoples artists.

Melbourne is a city built on the lands of the Kulin Nation peoples; Traditional Owners who continue to maintain deep connections to their country, kin and waterways that have existed for tens of thousands of years.

Along with Victorian Traditional Owners, the place now known as Melbourne is home to many First Peoples from across the country.

The city transforms every day, but beneath the concrete foundations ancient waterways continue to flow. The old gums, scarred with the lines of canoes, stand tall alongside towering skyscrapers, and fresh and salt water continue to meet in estuaries with the moon’s tidal pull.

While the city is changing, country and First Peoples culture is all around us. From the earth to the sky and the stories in the stars, to the built environment, tramways and laneways.

Curated by Kimberley Moulton (Yorta Yorta), the 2021 First Peoples Art Trams artists are:

  • Deanne Gilson—Wadawurrung
  • Thomas Marks—Wotjobaluk/Gunaikurnai
  • Aunty Rochelle Patten—Dhudhuroa/Wemba Wemba/Yorta Yorta
  • Jarra Karalinar Steel—Boonwurrung/Wemba Wemba
  • Ray Thomas—Brabrawooloong Gunnai
  • Aunty Zeta Thomson—Wurundjeri/Yorta Yorta

The top six selected artworks speak to diverse themes of environmental ecologies and caring for Country, to personal stories of journeying and family, and reflect on the history and cultural heritage of First Peoples in the landscape. As a collective of moving artworks all six share with us the strength and beauty of creative cultural expression and the interwoven connections and continuous cultures of First Peoples in Victoria.

We received close to 60 applications for the 2021 Melbourne Art Trams, and thank everyone who took the time and effort to enter.


Victorian Traditional Owners and First Peoples artists were invited to respond to Melbourne and the multiple layers of history, country, diverse community and connections across Victoria. Submissions have now closed.


To be selected as a 2021 Melbourne Art Trams artist, applicants were required to be:

  • A Victorian Traditional Owner OR
  • A First Peoples artist where Victoria is the primary location in which they lived and worked OR
  • A First Peoples artist whose practice or body of work over the last five years has primarily taken place in Victoria

The following creative criteria applied:

  • Strength of the creative vision
  • Originality of response to the creative brief
  • Technical feasibility
  • How the artwork responds to its context (ie. riding the tramlines each day)


Submissions were assessed by curator and RISING Artistic Associate Kimberley Moulton (Yorta Yorta) and the Melbourne Art Tram Partnership Group comprising representatives of Creative Victoria, Department of Transport, Yarra Trams and RISING. This group is be made up of a majority of First Peoples with additional members to support technical and marketing requirements.

Aunty Zeta Thomson (Wurundjeri and Yorta Yorta Peoples)

Artwork: Mookies Around The Watering Hole

Tram Route: 5, 6, 16, 58, 72

Watch her video here.

Artist Statement:

“Mookie means spirit in Yorta Yorta. In our culture, visitors would call out to Ancestor Mookies as they walked through the bush announcing they were coming onto Country. They would meet and gather at sacred waterholes for ceremony.” Her statement continues, “After meeting, the travellers would begin their journey across Country to the next place, ‘galyan woka ngana buraya moya’—a beautiful place far, far away. This work teaches us to respect Country and honour Ancestors”.


Aunty Zeta Thomson is a respected Elder and descendant of the Yarra Yarra Clan of the Wurundjeri people through her father and grandfather, Alexander Briggs, and is a descendant of the Ulupna Clan of the Yorta Yorta people on her mother and grandmother, Teresa (Yarmuk) Clements’ side. She is a renowned artist, culture teacher and advocate for the rights of Aboriginal prisoners in Victoria. Aunty Zeta was born in 1946 to Geraldine Briggs and Selwyn Briggs. She is one of 13 children and grew up with her large family in Shepparton, Victoria. Aunty Zeta retains strong connections to her ancestral homelands.

Her parents participated in the historic Cummeragunja Walk-Off, relocating to the Shepparton-Mooroopna. Her family maintains links with Cummeragunja through the continuing use of ancestral burial grounds. Her knowledge of culture has been passed down by her mother and father and maternal grandmother. Aunty Zeta and her husband, Edward have been proudly for married 54 years. She is a mother of three children and a grandmother of ten.She has had a lifetime involvement in Aboriginal affairs, working at a community level, like many of her family members. She has supported land rights and Aboriginal rights with her family. Aunty Zeta was the first Victorian Aboriginal artist to have work exhibited at Melbourne Museum’s Bunjilaka Gallery. Her paintings are inspired by the family stories and her work showcases the Yorta Yorta creation story: “Aboriginal art is storytelling; it is inspired by old creation stories”.

You can buy a tote, tee or raincoat featuring Aunty Zeta Thomson's iconic Mookie motif in the RISING Shop. A portion of sales will be donated to Aunty Zeta's nominated charity Wildlife Victoria.

Jarra Karalinar Steel (Boonwurrung/Wemba Wemba Peoples)

Artwork: iilk (eel)

Tram route: 48 and 109

Watch her video here.

Artist Statement:

“From a small child my mother would tell me stories of the iilk (eel) and their long Journey Cycles, as well as their importance as a food source for our people the Boonwurrung.

I was always fascinated by the idea of them making their journey along Elizabeth Street which originally was a creek running from the Birrarung (Yarra River). Elizabeth Street was the main street in which our tram would enter the city when I was a child and teen, coming from Brunswick and North Melbourne and I’d often reflect on this story.

The reason for using the iilk is because I like the idea of them taking back and reclaiming their important place in what we call Melbourne today. I imagine them all traveling along our tram lines as part of their Journey Cycle.

This work I have included some personal icons: • The wattle being my name Jarra Karalinar (wattle tree woman). • The feathers being Bundjil (wedge tail eagle) and Waa (crow). • I also used some pattern design influenced by Kulin designs. • And lastly my Walert Murrup (possum spirits) which are healing spirits.

I wanted to express my lifelong connection and love to this city of Melbourne and our trams. I was conceived in Richmond (my twin and I are IVF babies) and born at Queen Victoria Hospital. I’ve spent a majority of my life in Melbourne catching and riding trams, trams are my main transport to keep me connected and the sound they make would be the background to the soundtrack of my life”.


Jarra Karalinar Steel – a multi-disciplinary artist known for her powerful emu engravings, poster art, large scale public installations, Digital/Augmented Reality Art, RAP artwork and commemorative signage. Jarra is of Boonwurrung, Wemba Wemba, English and Scottish descent. Jarra completed her Master of Arts (Art in Public Space) from RMIT in 2020. Jarra is a passionate advocate/consultant for Self-Representation of Kulin and Victorian First Peoples Art and culture and making sure it is kept alive and thriving.

Ray Thomas (Brabrawooloong Gunnai Peoples)

Artwork: Djeetgun Dreaming

Tram Route: 70 and 75

Watch his video here.

Artist Statement:

Djeetgun Dreaming - Djeetgun the female blue wren is the wrukut (womens) totem of the Gunnai people of Gippsland. The Gunnai nation consist of five clan groups. My family are from the Brabrawooloong clan. Our country begins just east of Stratford and takes in the Mitchell, Nicholson and Tambo rivers and all their water tributaries. To the north we are locked by the mountains while our southern boundary ends around Paynesville and the lakes. The patterning in my design pays respect to my Ancestors. These markings have inspired from the shields that were collected in the late 1800s by the squatters from the area at the time.

A number of these shields ended up in the Victorian Museum collection in Melbourne and eventually were returned to the community in the mid-1990s. This was period when artefacts and cultural material was being repatriated after negotiations with the then government. They are now housed in the Krowathunkooloong Keeping Place in Bairnsdale of which I briefly managed between 1998 -2000. The beautiful little Gunnai Lit (Child) is my granddaughter, Bryeesha. I christened her Djeetgun when I first laid eyes on her as a baby and she is affectionately called Djeetgun by the whole family to this day. The gums leaves represent the little bird Djeetgun as she flutters through the under growth and through the bush.


Ray Thomas was born in Melbourne in 1960 and is a highly acclaimed Victorian Aboriginal artist. He is mainly self-taught and was influenced by the award-winning artist, Lin Onus, who he met in the early 1970s. Since the mid-1980s Thomas has been researching his Gunnai people’s stories, histories and iconography, influenced by archives and historical cultural material held in museums and keeping places from his people. Thomas won the Deadly Art Award through the Victorian Aboriginal Art Awards in 2013 for a portrait of his mother, Alice and is a practicing mural artist which include large murals at the Northcote Town Hall, the Victorian Aboriginal Health Service Preston and Fitzroy, and one of several mural artists for the Aboriginal Advancement League Mural Wall on St Georges Road. Ray Thomas has work in various collections including the National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne Museum and Darebin City Council.

Aunty Rochelle Patten (Dhudhuroa/Wemba Wemba/Yorta Yorta Peoples) in collaboration with her grandson Dixon Patten

Artwork: March of the Ants

Tram Route: 58 and 59

Artist Statement:

“This artwork is titled march of the ants. It pays respects to environment and caring for country and community. Our old people learnt a lot by observing the environment, it taught us things, it still tells us things if we are open to listening. The ants represent travelling, working together and participating in our communities. Every ant has a role to play to ensure survival and continuity. All roles are important in the community’s success. The feet represent us observing and learning from them and applying those principles to our society. As individuals; the ants are minute and weak. But together, they are strong. This is how I view our society when we work together. It’s all of our duty to care for country and each other”.


Aunty Rochelle Patten is a highly respected elder and cultural leader and artist. Aunty Rochelle has a Masters of Applied Science at Deakin University when which she achieved at fifty years of age and was focused on the health of the Dungahla (Murray) River and Murray Darling Basin areas of where she has lived and continues to care for. She has worked for the Native Title Legal Service and the Cummeragunja Aboriginal Medical Service as the chairperson for sixteen years. Aunty Rochelle also sits on the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council as a director for her region. Aunty Rochelle has been creating art for many years and recently had a joint exhibition at Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre titled Two Strong Sisters. Aunty Rochelle has been on the Yulendj knowledge group for Museums Victoria since 2012 and was an integral contributor to the First Peoples exhibition at Melbourne Museum. She is a respected member of her community and currently lives in the Barmah Forest connecting and caring to her country and animal friends.

Thomas Marks (Wotjobaluk/Gunaikurnai Peoples)

Artwork: Walking on my Father’s Country

Tram Route: 6 and 19

Artist Statement:

“This work represents walking on my father’s Country and the importance of leaving my footprints and connections. My father was a proud Wotjobaluk man. It’s a tribute to him, connecting our two spirits together as father and son. It shows flowering Indigenous plants that grow along the Wimmera River nurtured by the warmth of the sun and the river. These have provided food and cultural resources for Wotjobaluk people for generations.”


Thomas ‘Marksey’ Marks is a Wotjobaluk/Gunaikurnai man from Gippsland. Being one of many Stolen Generations children, he wasn’t able to grow up on his traditional country. As an adult, he is now proudly reclaiming his Aboriginal identity through art. Thomas proudly acknowledges his involvement with the highly successful Pitcha Makin’ Fellas art collective in Ballarat before going to prison. He remembers meeting The Torch CEO, Kent Morris, at Indigenous art exhibitions and events and then again at Ravenhall Correctional Centre, where he joined The Torch Program in 2018.

“Becoming an artist has changed me in so many ways. It has given me a better perspective and outlook on life and it has taught me to have patience; I guess it’s created a whole new world for me and has given me a lot more confidence in myself.” Thomas is motivated by the injustices of his past, as a stolen generations child. This is strongly depicted in the poems written within his artworks. “I guess I focus on things from my past, like the Stolen Generations. It wasn’t my choice, it’s something that was forced upon me. I not only get inspiration from my Stolen Generations background but through my subsequent life experiences in trying to connect back to my identity, culture and aboriginality. When I complete a painting, I feel I have achieved a little bit more of the healing process. It gives me a sense of belonging; a knowing of who I really am. It also gives me a sense that I can achieve anything that I put my mind too.”

Deanne Gilson (Wadawurrung Peoples)

Artwork: Karringalabil Bundjil Murrup, Manna Gum Tree (The Creation Tree of Knowledge)

Tram Routes: 3, 3a, 64 and 67

Artist Statement:

“My painting depicts the Wadawurrung Creation Story of South Eastern Victoria, at a place known as Black Hill in Gordon, situated on my ancestral Country. A man known as Karringalabil the creator spirit, created the first man and woman out of clay (paapul). He took bark and leaves from the great birthing tree known today as the manna gum tree. The manna gum tree is a sacred tree that housed all the spirits of creation within its branches. Karringalabil turned the tree spirits into the birds of creation, who today, represent our ancestral totems. He then turned himself into the largest and most powerful bird, Bundjil the Eaglehawk. The role of the other birds was to help Karringalabil Bundjil, give and sustain life on earth.

"After creating the plants, animals, waterways, forests and mountains, Bundjil asked his friends the birds, to perform different roles in order to complete his creation. Firstly, Parrwang the magpies lifted the sky, from darkness to light, giving us the first sunrise. Then Waa the ancestral crow, opened his lungs and blew life in to the people, scattering them across the countryside, after which they needed to keep warm and cook food, so Bundjil asked Jinap the cockatoo to bend down and scatter fire across Country on his burnt crest. Bundjil then took his two wives, Koonawarra the black swan sisters and flew high up in the sky above Lal Lal Falls, our sacred creation site today where he watches over all of us today.”


Artist Bio Deanne is a proud Wadawurrung woman of Aboriginal and Australian/English descent, living on her ancestral Country of Ballarat in Victoria. Her award-winning art practice has spanned 35 years full time, or an entire lifetime, choosing to work full time on a painting and sculptural practice, along with facilitating cultural educational workshops in schools and local business. Gilson’s contemporary artworks aim to reconnect back to traditional stories, in particular her Creation Story given to her by her mum Marlene. Along with using marks found on ancestral artefacts, thus revealing cultural knowledge of women’s business and ceremony, while as the same time reflecting the colonial gaze as a way to strengthen and regain her identity back. Reviving ochre painting across Wadawurrung Country and creating a platform for healing, acceptance, reconciliation and strength. Stating that “my art is part of my Dreaming and ceremony, always was, always will be.”

Working in and out of western genres, like still life painting and traditional stone circles, Gilson was the first Wadawurrung artist to bring back traditional marks and ancestral stories within her art practice after colonisation, along with teaching her mum Marlene Gilson how to paint. An emerging elder in her community, Gilson has just received three awards including a community award for her art and teaching over 10,000 students about her culture and bringing positive change and awareness of Aboriginal people through art.

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