Digby Moran has had an incredible life to date. Digby’s father Edward was Dungutti and his mother Edna was Bundjalung. He was born in Ballina and grew up on a mission on Cabbage Tree Island in the Richmond River. It was there that he listened to stories from his grandfather, mother, uncles and elders. He would go fishing after school and catch prawns by dragging a hessian bag (which had been split open at the seams) through the water with his friends. He would row a dingy down the river to get groceries for his mother or pick up his brother from the mainland to take him back to the island after a day’s work. Digby enjoyed living with the close community on Cabbage Tree and was close to nature.
At sixteen Digby left Cabbage Tree to work in the local cane fields, he would cut cane by hand in the Ballina Region. After a few years Digby joined the Jimmy Sharman Boxing Troupe as did his father before him. This enabled him to travel extensively, where he saw a great deal of this vast country. Twenty years ago at the age of 42 he made the life changing decision to ‘quit’ alcohol and tobacco. In his own words “It was the best decision I have ever made.”
In 1991 he undertook an art course at TAFE to keep himself occupied and discovered that he had a talent for painting. He found that painting was a way he could express himself. Digby says “Painting gives me great pleasure and brings me peace. It is a way for me to tell the stories that were told to me by my grandparents and elders when I was growing up.”
Digby is now a renowned artist and many of his artworks reflect his fondness for his early life. “You had to make your own fun back then. We would row around the island, spear eels and fish for mullet and flathead. My mother would collect Christmas Bells to decorate the table. They are native to my country and I use them in my art as symbols of respect for my land and my mother”. Digby chuckles over the irony that today they are protected and shouldn’t be picked.
In 1998 a magnificent cabinet made by Evans Head craftsman Justin Crisp and painted by Digby won the open art section at the Southern Cross Art Award. The cabinet is very special to Digby as it features the handprints of Justin’s family as well as the handprints of his grandchildren and mother (who has since passed away) His mother was his ‘number one fan’ when he started painting. They were very close and she would often visit Digby in the evening to watch him paint.
Digby enjoys enormous respect throughout the Northern Rivers region from artists and the wider community. He is employed at Namatjira Haven, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre as a support worker and is in great demand as a guest speaker at the many schools in the northern rivers area where he never fails to deliver the message that alcohol and drugs “are no good for you”. Two years ago Digby became a ‘Living Book’ in the ground breaking initiative by Lismore Library - The Living Library. Once a month members of the public can visit the library and ‘borrow’ a living book. Designed to break down barriers and stereotypes Digby thoroughly enjoys talking to and answering the questions of the people who ‘borrow’ him. Digby was recently interviewed by BBC radio about his participation in the Living Library. His varied life has taken him from a mission on Cabbage Tree Island all the way to Austria and Germany where he has exhibited many times.
Digby is also an Australia Day Ambassador, a position which he is extremely proud to carry out, he enjoys travelling to all parts of New South Wales and meeting people from all walks of life and hopefully inspiring people to follow their dreams.
His love for his Bundjalung heritage and country are inspiration for his work. Digby only paints what he knows, he never paints anything outside his Bundjalung boundaries, “ you’ll never catch me painting things like barramundi or crocodiles,” he said. Water, especially the ocean is a common theme , “Water is a big part of all Bundjalung Dreaming,” Digby explains “I have always been a saltwater man.”
Digby has had many shows and exhibitions, including the 2000 Peoples Choice Award at the National Aboriginal and Islander Telstra Art Award at the Northern Territory Art Gallery (Darwin) a solo show at the Museum Hameln (Germany)in 2004, the Berlin Aboriginal Art Gallery (Germany) in 2001 and 2002, the New Media Gallery in Vienna, (Austria) in 2003 and in Duisburg (Germany) in Sept 2009 and Emmerich (Germany) in Nov.2009
No matter how far his art takes him around the world Digby will always be connected to his own ‘energy of the earth.’ “I love walking around the coast especially at Goanna Headland, Evans Head, just to feel the energy of the place.”