Subiaco Hospital Celebrates Aboriginal Culture with Janetia Knapp's 'Birthing on Country'

In celebration of Aboriginal culture and as part of Reconciliation Week, St John of God Subiaco Hospital has commissioned a work of art titled Birthing on Country by Aboriginal artist Janetia Knapp.

30 May 2023

Artwork titled Birthing on Country by Aboriginal artist Janetia Knapp

The piece will be installed in the Birth Suite, where it can serve as a symbol of respect for the land and the culture of the Noongar people.

Janetia, a Noongar elder with connections to Nadu, is from the Stolen Generation and has dedicated her life to preserving and sharing her rich heritage. A cultural teacher, nurse, and artist, Janetia embodies resilience and the power of storytelling.

The painting Birthing on Country tells the tale of Noongar boodja, a place of birthing on ancestral lands. With its vibrant colours, the artwork breathes life into the stories of the Noongar people. Gumtrees, songlines, and the journey from the lakes for fresh water are depicted, symbolising the connection between the Noongar people and their environment. The painting represents the present-day existence of the Noongar people, emphasising their deep respect for the land they call home.

At the heart of the artwork lie the six seasons, each represented through colour. The red (kamberang) and the orange (birak) capture the heat of summer, while the yellow (buneru) signifies warm weather. The blue (djuran) colours represent winter, while the green (makaru) symbolises the season of birthing. Finally, the purples (djiba) embody the arrival of spring, rejuvenating the land and its inhabitants. These seasons, intricately woven into the painting, reflect the harmonious and cyclical nature of life on Noongar boodja.

When asked about her inspiration behind the piece, Janetia shared profound insights into the historical significance of the artwork. She highlighted the existence of birthing sites across Noongar boodja, where women have long carried out the sacred act of bringing new life into the world. She spoke of the importance of these sites and how they continue to be visited and respected by the Noongar community. 

Janetia also shed light on the songlines, the spiritual paths of the Noongar people that connect significant locations. In particular, she revealed that the very place where St John of God Subiaco Hospital stands today is one of the birthing sites along these respected songlines.

Janetia's artistic journey has been closely intertwined with her personal healing process. Born during a time when her Aboriginal identity was denied, she was separated from her family at a very young age. 

Faced with a range of different cultural experiences and languages, she found solace in painting – a means of soothing her soul and reconnecting with her heritage. Art became Janetia's path to healing on her country.

Reflecting on her collaboration with St John of God Subiaco Hospital, Janetia expressed her motivation to share cultural stories and walk a shared path. As both a nurse and an artist, she believes in the importance of compassion and the power of storytelling. Through art and teaching, she aims to enlighten and inspire others, fostering a deeper understanding of Aboriginal culture.

St John of God Subiaco Hospital Director of Mission Integration Jennifer Healey said the decision to showcase Janetia Knapp's Birthing on Country signifies a commitment to cultural appreciation and inclusivity.

“Janetia has been invited to present Birthing on Country before its instalment to our caregivers as part of Reconciliation Week,” Ms Healey said.

“Along with the Co-Chair of our Reconciliation Working Committee, Ken Hayward, Janetia will join our hospital for a Yarning Circle, where our caregivers can learn about our shared histories, cultures and achievements, and explore how they can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia.”