NRC Search


Northern Rivers Creative is all about supporting and showcasing creatives in our region, so to celebrate creativity, connection and a deep appreciation for place, we have a chat with local visual artist, Melissa Ladkin.
Melissa is a contemporary Aboriginal artist living on Bundjalung country, Northern NSW. A proud descendant of the Awabakal / Wonnarua / Bundjalung peoples. Mel has been caring for country most of her life.
Lead by her elders Mel experienced a deep and intuitive connection to the land. She felt the earth speak to her and was moved by the richness and depth of colours that form ochres of country.
For the past 30 + years Mel has worked in the bush, with native plants, trees & their habitats as a land conservationist and has always been fascinated with geology, rocks, minerals and soils. Working specifically with ochre, the careful and respectful collection to the processing is a significant and alchemical process, they are slowly blended and formed into pigment. This is a very personal journey, a time of deep connection and acknowledgement of all that have come before her.
Mel’s collection of art works has evolved with much thought, care and respect. Her practise speaks of an ancient wisdom, and she hopes her work will inspire others to open to the spirit of the land and to the rich culture and knowledge that it holds.
Read on as Mel delves into how her deep, spiritual and intuitive connection to Country leads her art practice in almost every way.


You are known for your use of ochre, which forms the primary material for your visual arts practice. Could you tell us about your connection to ochre and how you first came to work with this ancient, natural material in your art practice? Were you guided by anyone specific along the way?

We are intrinsically connected to country there is no separation. I’m always guided by our elders and have a deep connection to place, the landscape, and our mother, constantly observing and listening to her. Also, I am guided by these sentient beings who hold deep knowledge, significant energy, and story. Whilst acknowledging that our many Nations, Clans and family groups have different relationships to ochre. Having worked with water colour for many years it wasn’t until painting up my daughter who is a dancer that inspired me to explore more deeply the ochres that intrigued me from my childhood learnings from elders.

Your paintings speak to the natural environment and pay homage to your ancestral roots, could you talk to us about how you are called to begin a painting? What initially sparks an idea for a new artwork?

I’m lucky to spend a great deal of time on Country with my work, in NSW and remote NT. I do get inspired and have ‘ideas’ about what I’d like to paint but it’s the ochres themselves that speak… I always start with my bases, never mark out and just go in freehand with what I want to paint, and it always does its own thing, has its own truth and story to be told. They behave very differently as well, each piece and each colour has its own personality. I do feel like I’m just the medium of what my ancestors have to say.

You have collaborated with other artists in the past, the body of work, Ganuu created alongside Nickolla Clark comes to mind. Can you speak about the importance of collaboration and the sharing of ideas between artists?

Art is for sharing. I feel strongly about supporting and guiding our young and emerging artists especially if they are as strong in culture, talented and passionate as both Nickolla and Coedie McCarty are, whom did the short film accompanying Ganuu. It is part of gifting what I have received from many talented artists sharing their wisdom and time with me over the years. I also love to hold workshops and witness how others relate to our earth pigments and marvel at what comes through. Most of us (artists) tend to be locked up in our studios for weeks at a time so it is important to feel connected with our community.

How does caring for Country inform your work as an artist?

The health of our Lands, sea and sky is our responsibility, the continuing custodianship and passing that on, is part of our daily practice. Having worked in conservation for most of my life, Country leads my practice in every way, from the permission, materials, process, curation. I’m in constant communion with her. She does not lie and tells us exactly what is needed, we just need to listen. Country is my collaborator and I hope that people viewing my art can feel the importance of how precious and sacred Country is.

What advice would you have for an early career artist who is just starting out?

Lead from your heart, not your head. Having an art practice is a personal journey and presents differently to each of us. It involves many hours and hard work often in solitude. Try and not have expectations of how your art speaks to people and the art world. And remember, art is not art unless shared…


Mel is represented by Ninbella in The Northern Rivers and The G Contemporary in Noosa, Queensland.
Jugan’ is Mel’s upcoming exhibition with Kurun Warun & Ethan James Kotiau at Ninbella from 14th December.
Portraits by Amelia Rushforth taken for Home By The Sea by Natalie Walton. All other images courtesy of the Artist.
Image 1: Kuribibi Stream II
Image 2: Garbah I – Spring Water
Image 3: Yaro Yaro – Scatter II


Stay Creative