Artist Montana McStay, 25, is on a mission to teach young people about her language and culture through art.
After moving from Traralgon in 2020, Montana has been developing her small business “Inala Art and Design” from her Drouin home. When not hard at work painting and creating, Montana can be found engaging with First Nations students at local schools.
The accomplished artist comes from a creative family, and hopes to carry on First Nations culture through her work – teaching generations of children about where they come from and their strong ties to country. Growing up, Montana’s mother was a curtain maker, and would often scrapbook. Her father was talented at drawing.
The journey to becoming a full-time artist has not been a straight line for Montana, but now she has many opportunities at her fingertips. While she was passionate about art in high school, and had people offer to purchase her first full-size art piece, she decided to take on another passion – racehorse training – after year 12.
One of the most impactful experiences Montana undertook after graduation was a volunteer placement in Oodnadatta, South Australia, at 18. During her time there she worked in a school with First Nations children teaching literacy and numeracy.
It was an important trip for the young artist, as her great-great-grandmother was part of the Pitjantjatjara people, who live in and around that region.
“It was really important to me to get to know the language and the people,” she said. “The kids, they’re like sponges, everything you said to them, they took it and they remembered it.”
After leaving harness racing and taking on a role at a beauty salon in Melbourne, Montana returned to Gippsland to pursue her passion for art and pass on her family’s legacy to other young people.
“My great grandmother, she passed on before I could know her and she was a huge impact on the Aboriginal community.”
“I feel like it’s my duty to carry on her legacy, she was a very resilient woman, and so is my mother and my Nan.”
Montana creates traditional indigenous art on canvas and emu eggs, as well as portraits of people and animals.
At the beginning of her new career, Montana was creating pieces for family and friends free of charge, but soon her uncle contacted the Department of Health and Human Services and suggested they commission a mural from Montana for kids in care.
Since then, Montana has launched Inala Art and Design, a business name she spent much time selecting.
“I thought about it for months – Inala Art and Design – it means spring season… it’s all about rebirth,” she said.
“I actually looked through an old book that’s falling apart that my Nana gave me… and in there I found the word Inala,” she said.
Montana used IntoJobs Self-Employment Assistance program in Gippsland to launch her business. The IntoJobs team was able to help her organise things like copywriting and insurance.
“I was able to develop my business further through the program. They were really good to bounce ideas off.”
“There’s so much that goes into running a business too that you just don’t know about… it was such a good program to be involved in.”
Montana said her work in schools had been well received by students.
“I feel like a lot of kids these days are very distracted from a lot of things that might be happening at home, or they are peer pressured and just going in a completely different path than what they might be destined to.”
“I’ve taught them how to connect to culture and country through art.”
For NAIDOC Week Montana has partnered with AGL to have one of her most prominent and heartfelt works projected onto water tanks in Traralgon South. The special piece is a portrait of her great-grandmother Nessie Skuta.
“It’s a huge deal for me because, as I said, she’s such an inspiration and I only heard her voice for the first time this year watching an interview by ABC.”
She also will be creating designs for special AGL workwear and PPE.
Published June 6, 2023 in The Warragul and Drouin Gazette. Written by Alyssa Fritzlaff.