Peace in Nature Totems

Totems: In Indigenous culture a totem is a natural object, plant or animal that is inherited by members of a clan or family as their spiritual emblem. Totems define people’s roles and responsibilities, and their relationships with each other and their creation. (

This extraordinary and unique gallery of art has been created, designed and handcrafted specifically for this space, Gippsland Multidisciplinary Centre (MDC), by local indigenous artists Aunty Gloria Whalan, Uncle Dennis Seymour and Elen Foy.

The art is an expression of tranquillity, peace and spirituality found in the images of birds, wildlife, fish and nature that surrounds us.

As one enters this building, the journey begins with the image of a native Platypus, a mammal unique to Australian waters representing ‘freedom’, swimming serenely in the river of slump glass. Deep below the stillness of the water amongst the reeds, a baby Platypus waits patiently in the safety and serenity of the habitat.

The animals are brought to life by the use of ‘wood burning’, a technique that has been long used in Indigenous cultures. The artists bring each image and the wood to life by creating a symbol or totem that connects us with the earth and generates peace within.

The images are designed to draw you inside the painting itself. Each animal on each totem is placed in their ‘right place’- up in the sky, down on the earth, in the trees, water ways. Where nature intended them to be.  You are invited to experience a journey of discovery amongst the ‘Peace in Nature Totems’, where you may be transported to a sense of beauty, calmness and tranquility.

You are welcome to place your hand on an image and notice where it takes you and how it makes you feel, or you may like to simply observe the images whilst you sit, stand or walk in the space.

Children may recognise the animals as they observe and explore the space. We encourage them to touch and feel the wildlife images on the totems as a way of connecting to the earth, and to images of animals who may bring a sense of calm to the surrounds.


Auntie Gloria Whalan is a Wiradjuri woman, Elder, Artist and Author of Indigenous Children’s books.

Auntie Gloria’s Indigenous name is Yurra Whalan meaning ‘strong bright sunshine’ – ‘Whalan’ meaning ‘strong’ in Wiradjuri language.

Totem: Green Tree Frog

Auntie Gloria started drawing using charcoal from the fire at a young age; she is a recognised artist in her own right, and runs an art studio for indigenous and non- indigenous artists in the local area.

Auntie Gloria is also the lead artist, creator and designer of the ‘Peace in Nature Totems’ project and describes the work as a “spiritual and earthy creation”.  This project took many long hours and weeks to produce.

The wood element was chosen to create a sense of both warmth and calm to the space.  The process involved creating and drawing each image onto the poles before being burnt permanently into the wood. Each drawing is unique and each animal has its own characteristics.

Auntie Gloria describes this project as a “work of love- as Artists we are proud to have made something unique- the only piece of art of this kind that we have created together”.

Elen Foy is a Wiradjuri woman, an artist; her country is located in the Blue Mountains area of New South Wales. Elen is also known as Vicki Elen, which is her birth name.

Elen’s Indigenous name is Vedaliya –Daliya, meaning ‘big sand goanna’, the cultural totem of the Wiradjuri people.

Totem: Goanna

Elen is extremely proud of her heritage and of creating the ‘Peace in Nature Totems’ in collaboration with ‘Nanny’ (Auntie Gloria Whalan), and Uncle Dennis. Elen is a leader and mentor in her community and enjoys being able to support people around her.

Elen’s philosophy on life is “Live on Laughter and Art”.

Uncle Dennis Seymour is an Indigenous Elder, a Nuaragga man from the York Peninsula in South Australia.

Totem: Wallaby

Uncle Dennis recently graduated with a Masters of Visual Arts from Federation University Gippsland at the age of 86 years, and is widely recognised for his landscape paintings of ‘country’ in ochre.

As an artist Uncle Dennis enjoys passing on knowledge to children, young people, and anyone who wants to learn about art in his local community.

In describing the ‘Peace in Nature Totems’, Uncle Dennis explains that “the technique of burning wood is a way of creating the animal itself, its shapes and the personality of the animal. The images come to life. It doesn’t just become pictures of animals, it becomes a living experience.

It’s a spiritual creation- you go inside the painting itself”.  

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