Artist with passion for education inspires Dragons

Lani Balzan is the Indigenous artist behind the St George Illawarra Dragons' last two Indigenous Round jerseys but it's her passion for children and education that also makes her such an inspiration to the club.

A proud Wiradjuri woman originally from the Mudgee region, Balzan is now a prominent member of the Illawarra community whose "Songlines" artwork won last year's NAIDOC 2016 National Artwork Competition.

Balzan is again designing a 'Reconciliation' mural for the Dragons with this year's design to feature hand prints from Dragons players and other members of the community and will be hung at WIN Stadium following the Indigenous Round celebrations.

Dragons Community Officer Paul Everill spoke in glowing terms of Balzan's contribution to the club since she was recommended by Illawarra Aboriginal Corporation last year.

"Lani is an excellent role model," Everill said.

"She works as an Aboriginal Education Officer at Warrawong High School. Many of those kids look up to her as a role model.

"The Dragons will also nominate her for the Wollongong City Council NAIDOC award this year because of her involvement with us and the reconciliation mural us with the jerseys and assisting us with the programs and the RAP (Reconciliation Action Plan).

"I can't say enough good things about her. She's a wonderful young woman, very talented and on top of that she's a great role model for the students and the community."

‌Despite gaining increasing recognition for her artworks and a growing number of requests to commission work, Balzan said she wouldn't consider giving up on her school roles to focus solely on her business.

"I do a lot of talks within the community, not just my school at Warrawong," Balzan said.

"I even Skype with schools in Queensland because I did the NAIDOC poster last year and got some publicity from that but also because I can reach out not just in my own community but elsewhere as well.

"I love educating the younger generation – education is the key and I try and guide them to finish school and get a good education.

"I love my art but because I work three days at the high school and the two days I'm off with my artwork everyone says 'why don't you just quit and do your business' but I enjoy working with the kids, kids are my passion as well as my art."

Balzan's big week included taking a couple of kids to a session to work on the mural including getting the players' hand prints; taking a group of kids along to a session painting footballs that will be given away by the club at its home game at Kogarah against local rivals the Sharks on Friday; doing a training course to help her support children with autism as well as working on her own business. Much of Friday will be spent fielding questions from kids about her involvement with the Dragons for Indigenous Round.

Speaking about the design for this year's mural (the original for last year was sadly lost in a devastating house fire in which Balzan lost priceless work along with expensive equipment and supplies), Balzan said the key was to focus on reconciliation.

"The middle part of the mural represents a gathering," she said.

"When I do a hand print, for non-Indigenous people we do white with colour and then for Indigenous people we do black with colour. It shows all the different hand prints from no-Indigenous to Indigenous and how we're all together."

Asked for his thoughts on how the mural was coming along, Everill simply laughed: "It's a big six-metre mural, our players have put their hand prints on it, there's a design in the middle and it's a cracker."