Coming back to country

Cheree Stokes is by her own admission spiritual with a belief that the universe will guide you to where you should be. Hearing her story, it is easy to understand why . The self-taught award winning contemporary Aboriginal Artist, poet and storyteller depicts the moving story of her journey to find her way back home through her original works.

The Founder of the Healing Dots® movement, Cheree was born at a time when “Stolen Generation” policies were still in place in Australia. Under such policies at least 100,000 Aboriginal children who were forcibly removed or taken under duress from their families by police or welfare officers between 1910 and 1970, as stated in in the Bringing Them Home Report.(1) 

Cheree is the child and grandchild of a “Stolen One”, born to a father who was removed from his family and who himself was born to a mother removed from her ancestral land. When he married her mother, a white woman, and had children, he didn’t want to raise them in the traditional ways of his people. Due to fear of losing his own children, Cheree’s father made the heart-wrenching decision to keep her separated from her Aboriginal roots and bring her up in the ways of white society in order to give her the best chance at life. This left Cheree, and many others like her, with a deep sense of loss, because they no longer knew where they came from, or more importantly, where they belonged.  

“My brother and I worked out as children that we were Aboriginal,” she smiles, “We saw the photos of our relatives on Dad’s side. I always considered myself Aboriginal.”

While attending university where she graduated with a teaching degree, Cheree started to read about policies such as the Aborigines Protections Act, and understood for the first time the extent of what her father, who was only seven when he was taken, had survived and the intergenerational trauma caused to so many.

Although she has painted her whole life, in 2016 she felt inexplicably drawn to her deep ancestral heritage and started painting in the traditional Aboriginal style.  She soon realised that her works were becoming part of a cathartic healing process, with each painting reconnecting her with her long-forgotten past.   

“I believe in my ancestors and now I know that they are guiding me in my life and through my art. I always had a connection to land and there are places I’ve been that I am drawn to without explanation.”

While Cheree enjoyed being a teacher, and felt teaching in Aboriginal communities was important, she struggled with the politics and red tape often involved. Leaving behind her teaching career to focus on her art full time opened up many opportunities. Holding art workshops to make a living allowed her own skills to soar. She had prints made of her art

work and attempted to sell them at local markets but discovered people were more interested in her original paintings.

Today Cheree’s original artworks are called Healing Works which incorporate her unique style of bold bright colours and gold crosshatching on black with 3-dimensional Healing Dots® created singularly and with painstaking detail. Unlike most original artworks, Cheree’s works are meant to be touched and she explains that her works create a calming an

healing effect.   It was a long journey for Cheree to feel confident enough to sell her art, which was a big learning curve. Initially she was happy to give her art away to people who wanted them and generously created artwork to be auctioned for fundraisers. Eventually opportunities saw galleries displaying her art and while she was grateful for the more exposure, she realised that the commissions paid to galleries were extremely high.

Sacred Womans Business - Cheree Stokes
Sacred Womans Business – Cheree Stokes

In time Cheree’s self-esteem grew as more people commissioned her to create works and she realised she could market her own work and sell her paintings for what they were actually worth. Cheree’s works have been awarded First Place for the Orana Indigenous Prize at the prestigious Arts Unlimited Exhibition 2019: First Place in the Australian Agricultural Shows: Parkes Show 2016 & 2017; the Trundle Show 2017 & 2018; the Molong Show 2018; and the Wellington Show 2018. She has taken out Champion Painting in several of these as well. 

Her original artworks hang in the private collections of homes around the world including the USA, the United Kingdom and Australia and have been exhibited at the Wintjiri Gallery at Ayers Rock Resort, Uluru and in the Australian Art Galleries of Kew Y Ahn and Studio 31A. Travelling over 6000kms in 2019, she was Resident artist in the Wintjiri Gallery at Uluru, an experience she says was one of the highlights of her life to date.

“Now I see that my artwork is my land, my home,” she smiles, “I’ve opened myself up to my ancestors and they guide me with my art but also the written story of my art. My vision is to teach children in the Aboriginal community how healing art can be and how connected it can make us. ”2020 brought with it the opportunity for Cheree to open her own studio/gallery and you will find her most days at Trundle NSW creating her unique works of arts and running her workshops. 

(1) The 700-page report of the ‘Stolen Generation’ National Enquiry, Bringing them Home, was tabled in Australia’s Federal Parliament on 26 May 1997.

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Sandy is a writer, creative and podcaster based in Melbourne’s west. She is the proud mother of her three adult children. She has always been passionate about women’s rights and celebrating the diversity of women having been raised by a proud disabled feminist mother herself. As the founder and Creative Director of Wb40 – Women Beyond Forty Magazine, she’s had a diverse and interesting career that has seen her wear various hats – business owner, manager, coordinator, writer, blogger and creative. She has never been afraid to challenge herself and has always had an entrepreneurial spirit. If “Wb40” reminds you of another thing entirely Sandy jokes that it’s the lubricant for your mind! In this world, representation matters, and right now in the publishing world, women over forty are not well represented. Sandy has been that woman fighting for her voice to be heard. As a mother, a single parent keeping her head above water, a business owner and a corporate worker. Although her background is diverse, the one constant is a desire to help others, to build a community, to give back and to bring people together. The journey of Wb40 – Women Beyond Forty, is not an accident. Sandy started an award-nominated blog back in 2013 which changed and evolved and has an established community of amazing women who are proud members of a tribe — industry leaders, creatives, disruptors, authors, survivors, inspirational keynote speakers, disability advocates and activists, teachers, nurses, doctors — many who are well known and respected in their fields. Women who, just like her, are seeking change in the world, and understand that the collective wisdom of women can make a positive difference in the world. When she reached out to women with her vision for Wb40 and her podcast The Good Girl Confessional, their collective enthusiasm, advice and encouragement was overwhelmingly positive and was honoured that they offered advice, their knowledge, time and expertise. They wanted to share their stories and write for Wb40. All of them without question wanted to be involved, believing in the vision but also understanding the need for such a platform. When Sandy couldn’t find the platform was looking for, with help from some friends, she created it here. Let’s start a revolution.