New art creating a tranquil space to rest, grieve, let go and say goodbye at Westmead Hospital

Two vibrantly coloured murals now wrap the walls of the outdoor balcony of Westmead Hospital’s Intensive Care Unit waiting room.

Entitled Ngununy, the Flying Fox Portal and Delta Tree Portal installations were created using a lexicon of symbols widely shared among First Nations Australians to bring a healing design and natural themes to the high-traffic rest area.

This art project was developed under the Mindfulness Art Portal (MAP) which brings together works by artist facilitator Martha Jabour in collaboration with medical and health staff and the local community.

Digitally illustrated by designer Jim Paton, the stunning Ngununy was co-funded through the Australia Council for the Arts and by the renowned Goh family.

The drawings were developed in consultation with Western Sydney Local Health District Aboriginal Liaison Officer and proud Anaiwan woman from the New England Tablelands township of Armidale, Narelle Holden, proud Sydney-based Gumbaynggirr, Bundjalung and Yuin woman, Kerry Kelly and the Anaiwan people at Westmead and Auburn Hospitals.

Wrapping the wall and doors, the Ngununy Flying Fox Portal embodies healing natural themes and the design stems from an image taken in Parramatta Park of the flying fox colony, Bunya pines and Parramatta River eucalypts. Flying foxes (fruit bats) are called ‘ngununy’ in Darug language and are regarded as a symbol of death and rebirth.

The Delta Tree Portal is an imagined landscape that simultaneously fuses interiors of bodily spaces and systems with external landscapes of trees and river. It also references natural forms and living vessels. Interwoven through this design are indigenous symbols of campfire, gathering, adjoining waterways, clapping sticks, stars, and cloud and hill motifs.

The balcony was identified as the perfect site for an artwork like this, as it’s frequently accessed both day and night by staff and patients and is the only breakout zone for natural air and light in the area,” artist facilitator Martha said.

“As the only ICU access to outdoors and sky, it’s a calming place for all to rest, grieve, let go and say goodbye.”

The artworks evolved from site specific research and creative workshops, involving conversations, artmaking, and meditations with Westmead Hospital Intensive Care staff.