Billy-Jay (BJ) O’Toole.

Australia possesses people of multicultural backgrounds: ethnic and indigenous Aboriginal.  We live on Aboriginal land and it is important to recognise the land’s traditional owners and to learn from them.

  • Did you know that Djillong, the original name of Geelong, means ‘a tongue of land’?
  • Do you believe in the connection between nature and people?

Bruce Pascoe writes in his book Dark Emu:

In 2012 I met Brad Steadman, an elder from Brewarrina, who told me this traditional story; ‘Bunggula, the sooty Grunter (bream), grunts when taken out of water. The spines on its back are the spears flung by the old man, Baiame, who hunted him in the waterhole. The fish escaped, and as he flashed his tail he made a channel which filled with water to make the river. But the country dried out, the kangaroos went away, the plants dried, and there was a big drought. The old man came back with his dogs and his sons, and said the drought was because the people didn’t know the law or the names of the rivers. He told them the songs to sing and the dances to dance so the rain would fall again and things would be as they are today.’

Billy-Jay (BJ) O’Tooleis an indigenous artist who aims to educate people about his culture and love for land through his art.  BJ grew up in Geelong on Wadawurrung Country, an area that stretches from the Great Dividing Range in Victoria’s north all the way to the south coast, covering the land between Aireys Inlet in the west to the Werribee River in the east.

BJ has an Aboriginal Cultural Heritage Certificate and also works at the Wadawurrung Aboriginal Corporation managing and protecting cultural heritage sites in the Wadawurrung Country.  The artist enjoys creating commissioned works in different form, size and media using acrylic colours.  A recent 3×3 metre mural with metal title he created called “Wadawurrung Country” sits high above the Geelong Ring Road at Wandana Heights.  The Wadawurrung Cooperation commissioned the mural to represent the First Nations people in the Djillong region.  BJ painted the mural using strikingly earthy colours and symbols in six layers.  BJ says:

“the first layer represents the ochre colours found everywhere on Wadawurrung country.  The next layer represents the coastline, the sandy beaches on Wadawurrung country.  Next is the ocean, with its many known cultural sites, a sacred part of Wadawurrung history……. followed by the volcanic plains that run through Wadawurrung country, telling of times long ago”.

The painting depicts rivers, creeks, mountains connected to the language of the Wadawurrung in the use of colours and symbols like circles, cross hatching and the sacred bird the crow.  BJ explains:

“Waa – the protector crow who’s watching over Wadawurrung Country and speaking to its inhabitants”.

BJ has another commissioned mural located in Torquay, at the Merrijig Dr intersection.  He also designed the Geelong Cats footy jumper in 2014 and 2015. 

BJ is a father of two children and hopes to be a full-time artist.  He is happy to do commissioned art work. To know more about his art and designs please log in to his Facebook page:

Finally, we learn how to look after the land from the people who have lived here for millennia and who hold a strong connection to land.  

Story: Zahidah Zeytoun-Millie. Photos: supplied