ALL THE COLOURS OF THE WORLD: the work of Jandamarra Cadd




Jandamarra Cadd is striving to integrate the black and white parts within himself – and is equally dedicated to uniting black and white cultures in Australia’s fractured society. Over the past 20 years, the artist has focused on portraying interracial unity in his stunning portraits that have shaken up the art world Down Under.

Bush Tucka (2022)

Jandamarra is proud to be an indigenous Aboriginal Australian – a First Nations man. His mother is Yorta Yorta and Dja Dja Warung, while his father is of Scottish and Swedish descent.

He grew up in Tingalpa, a suburb of Brisbane, Queensland, immersed in the stories shared by his mother, grandmother and aunties: “I grew up walking these two worlds. I absorbed a lot of intergenerational trauma from both sides of my family. With my mother’s side, there was the deep pain of the Stolen Generation, being rounded up, segregated on missions and being beaten and raped. 

“For multiple generations my people were displaced, not allowed to practise their ceremonies, speak in language or associate with family members. We suffered cultural genocide.”

The scars of the past and cruel racism caused the mixed-race boy deep confusion about his identity. “I remember being bullied at school and called ‘dirty’ and running home and filling a bath and pouring in bleach. I would try to scrub off my skin, thinking, there is white fella under here. If I could be a white fella I’d be happy and fit in.”

These days, at 50, with his mop of grey curls, his olive complexion and Mediterranean features, he could easily be mistaken for Greek or Italian, but has earned admiration and his rightful place in both white Australia and First Nations circles. He celebrated his milestone birthday with a spectacular solo exhibition in Melbourne, painted a stunning portrait of legendary singer-songwriter, Kev Carmody – on display at the University of Queensland – and created intricate murals for community and school projects.

With  Kev Carmody in front of the huge mural of the singer-songwriter on display at the University of Queensland

His profound knowledge of history and living in harmony with the natural environment makes a mesmerising interview for me as an Aussie on a visit to my homeland, after living in the UK for over 14 years. 

After rough beginnings, Jandamarra now lives on a lush property in the Sunshine Coast hinterland where he is creating a sustainable, self-sufficient way of life, growing forest gardens, fishing, foraging and hunting, and connecting with like-minded people in thriving rural communities. He is the devoted dad of two daughters, aged 10 and 8, who enjoy a carefree life in nature. “I feel living on the land is healing the divide in me. I’m coming back to my more traditional roots of my mother’s people, who for thousands of generations lived as sovereign beings.” 

He has reclaimed the dignity of his First Nations’ heritage and shares the wisdom of the Elders locally, nationally and internationally as a respected speaker on the world stage.

“I’m learning to understand how to read the land, and this is my identity. Aboriginal people don’t see the land as something separate. Like a fish in water, you cannot separate the two. Our relationship with Country is reading our own identity in the landscape and animals and in the elements of spirituality that permeate every aspect of creation. So you’re never separate from the natural environment. You can’t pull yourself out of that symbiotic connection. Even phrases like ‘being part of the land’ mean you are separate from the land in your heart. The truth is we are the land. 

“We have this term rama rama which means ‘sickness of the spirit’. The more you see yourself as separate from the natural world, the more trauma you experience, like a fish believing it is not part of the water. Eventually that fish, psychologically and physically, starts to break down. It’s not going to survive outside of the water. 

“I feel we are all being called – black, white, brown, man, woman, child – at this time of craziness to return to nature. It’s like a fire burning away the old grass to reveal the new shoots of consciousness that remind us of who we really are in relationship to each other and our environment.

“I am positive about the future. We have a term called wirritjin where the black fella and white fella come together and unite rather than perpetuate all this division that has happened in the past. It’s like that fish remembering that it must come back to water for nourishment.”

Jandamarra’s inspiring clarity and peace of mind comes after years of struggle. “My parents were together until I was 12. After my mum and dad separated there was a deep yearning in me. I ran away from home at the age of 13 and lived on the streets with other Aboriginal boys. We were locked up in ‘Juvie’ – juvenile detention. At 16 we broke out and were recaptured and put in isolation in empty cells with no bed, no toilet, just a bucket to defecate in and fed on rations. I remember smashing my head against the brick walls intending to kill myself and laying down in my faeces and blood and vomit. It was hell. 

“In the 1970s and 80s prisons were punitive. It wasn’t about rehabilitation. Aboriginal people have the highest rate of suicide, the highest rate of incarceration and the lowest life expectancy in the entire world. There have been 430 suspicious deaths in custody of Aboriginal people, without one prosecution of the police or any official inquiry.”  

Since the First Fleet of British settlers arrived in Botany Bay in 1788, First Nations people have been decimated by massacres and imported diseases. Children were stolen from their loving families, communities were destroyed and original Australians were ostracised from white society. 

The segregation laws of the Queensland government formed the basis of the cruel apartheid laws of South Africa, becoming Australia’s shameful contribution to the world. And yet the Australian Government stubbornly refuses to shift Australia Day celebrations from January 26, a date that marks Invasion Day for the First Nations people and the start of their suffering and misery. 

When Jandamarra got out of solitary confinement, he stopped talking. So they brought in a counsellor who introduced him to a paintbrush. This proved to be a divine intervention. “That lowest point of my life shattered my world and cracked open a space for something to open up inside me, an awakening. Painting became a new voice that aligned with my spirit.’

After his release, Jandamarra gradually recovered and went to college and later university where he mastered art theory and technique and graduated with High Distinctions. “In my 20s, I taught myself how to truly paint by observing light and shadow, form and texture. I started painting traditional stories from Country, just purely in line or dot work and symbols. Dot painting is based on the elevated view of the landscape from a mountain.

“But over time I started to see that people’s faces were landscapes. Everyone’s face is like a fingerprint, unique to them with their own story. I see in faces, in their lines and textures, the visual narrative of their entire life experience.”

With Uncle Jack Charles and his portrait, which won The People’s Choice Award at the Sunshine Coast Art Prize in 2019

Jandamarra’s extraordinary body of work includes a powerful portrait of the late Uncle Archie Roach, a revered Aboriginal singer, songwriter and activist. The portrait was awarded Finalist in the prestigious Archibald Portrait Prize. His vibrant portrait of the late Sister Njawamud Alice Eather, who courageously fought against mining in Arnhem Land, in the Northern Territory, honours her love of the ecosystem and all creatures. 

‘Mates’, an intricate portrait, shows two little girls arm-in-arm, representing friendship between the races. His transfixing portrait of acclaimed singer, Xavier Rudd captures his connection to his totem, the red tail black cockatoo. Jandamarra’s vast array of dazzling artwork is displayed on his website and available worldwide as prints. 

Jandamarra explains: “The act of painting is more intimate than the breath. I can be in the studio for 10 or 18 hours just caught up in the flow. My art is not merely paint on canvas. It is an invitation into the very humanity of who we are.

“I paint portraits that capture authentic moments where non-Aboriginal and Aboriginal subjects are together in a way that you feel the love and the connection and unity between the races. Inside me I have the parts of my dad and my mum to reconcile, so for me my paintings are an expression of both an internal and external healing.”

Indigenous communities thrived in the longest continuous human civilisation on earth for 50,000 years before the British ‘discovered’ Australia in 1770, declaring the land terra nullius (uninhabited). In reality, there were up to one million indigenous people living on the mainland and Tasmania and the Torres Strait Islands.

Jandamarra explains there were more than 500 nations speaking around 250 languages who lived according to the lore of unconditional love for the environment, community and self. “Each nation within Australia is vastly different. The diversity of cultures is like the continent of Europe, as different as the cultures of Germany, France, Italy and Poland. And each nation has a different language, although some share a common language.

“We have a term, gulpa ngwal, which means ‘deep listening from the well within’. When we listen to the trees, the plants, the soil, the seasons, nature shows us interconnectedness. When the silky oak flowers, the eels are in abundance down at the river. When the red claw flowers are out, the mud crabs are there. When native hops are blooming, the mussels are ready. These are the great collaborations of nature. When you deeply listen, you remember the language of nature.

“Our ancestors had a vision for the future. All First Nations’ lore was based on looking at seven generations ahead. Their behaviour was grounded in this strong lore of care for future generations. One of the worst forms of child abuse is stealing their future.

“Living on a natural diet, we had no sickness, no tooth decay. We had no crime and no gaols, no known suicide in custody. That adherence to the lore kept the people in a homeostatic balance. Life was like a running river as opposed to a stagnant pond. 

“Charles Darwin classified the Aboriginal people as ‘the most de-evolutionised race on the planet’ because they did not invent the wheel. But inventing something new does not epitomise progress. Wellness is the true measure of the success of a culture. We live with advanced technology and yet this is the sickest time in history. We’ve never had so much mental, emotional and physical unwellness. Wellness should be the measure of success of a culture, not inventions. 

“Why did the Aboriginal people not invent the wheel? They could have wheelbarrowed rocks and timber up a hill to build a house and a deck to look at the water. They would rather sit under that tree and just look out over that water, under the stars, which was their roof. They had food forests and systems of sustainable agriculture like eel farms and yam farms and growing tubers. They were never hungry. They knew where water was. Nature was their home. They didn’t need walls. After all the abuse and trauma, and all the genocide and destruction, the First Nations people are still saying ‘come and walk with us, listen and understand.’ 

“My paintings are a finger pointing to the moon, but they are not the moon. The direct experience of transcendence comes from walking on Country, listening to Country and becoming one. First Nations people extend a precious invitation into something deeper and greater, into unity and peace.” 

Diane Priestley

Diane Priestley is an experienced Journalist with a diverse career spanning more than 40 years writing for newspapers, magazines, online publications and books in Australia and the UK. She specialises in writing inspiring stories about extraordinary people who are making a positive difference to the world. Diane is also a qualified Counsellor, trained in developmental psychology, personality types, inner child therapy, relationships, communication skills and community development. An Aussie living in the UK since 2009, Diane does community work in Kenya in partnership with dedicated local people, volunteers and charities. Her passion for Making a Difference in Africa was sparked in her 50s and now her idealistic vision is becoming a reality. Contact Diane at

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