Rather than asking: “What is art?” I like to ask: “What does art do?” And: “What do we do with what art does?”. You can rad more about these questions in my book ‘Becoming With Art in Early Childhood (2018).

 In early childhood curriculum, it is long established that art is central to children’s learning. Over the years people artists such Dr Bronwyn Bancroft has been a major influence on my arts practice in early childhood. Dr Bancroft is an artist and an educator. She is the most highly published Aboriginal children’s author/illustrator in the country. At the inaugural Aboriginal Early Childhood Conference Dr Bancroft yarned with us about why she produces at least one children’s book per year – and that reason is to catch the country up on literature that captures over 100000 years of life in this place we have come to call Australia.

This brings me to this question – “what does art do?” (Scarlet, 2018)

So what does Dr Bancroft’s art do? Though my non-Indigenous eyes, her art (illustrations and stories) introduce me to ways of ‘seeing’, ‘thinking’ and ‘feeling’ that are not part of my cultural repertoire. Even though I am a practicing artist, my encounters with arts practice are derived from my own cultural identity. Dr Bancroft brings colour together in ways that I have never imagined. The way she does this through her illustrations invites me to ‘unthink’ ‘unlearn’ and ‘undo’ some of the ways I have encountered the Australian landscape. I then rethink about how our ‘cultural eyes’ convey understandings and knowledges of place. 

Now to my next question – “what do we do with what art does?” (Scarlet, 2018)

So what do we do with what Dr Bancroft’s art does? While Dr Bancroft gifts us with her images and narratives of place, our encounters as non-Indigenous people are not the same as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples whose histories trace through the world oldest living culture. The work her illustrations and narratives do is to educate us in ways that invite us to think about the differences in how we connect with Country, care for it and recognise its extraordinary history. Dr Bancroft’s art is a call to action that invites us to live ethically with Country, learn about the places and spaces in which we live and work and to consider the part that we play in restoring Country through listening and learning.

Dr Bronwyn Bancroft’s books should be on every bookshelf in every educational setting. She is a leader, inspiration and works with such generosity.

Dr Red Ruby Scarlet




Scarlet, R. R, (Cr.) (2018). Becoming With Art in Early Childhood. Erskineville: MultiVerse Publishing.