Year 12 student, Keira Long, can’t recall a time she wasn’t making art. Even her kinder drawings were wonderfully expressive.

In late July this year Keira was notified her artwork, ‘Nala and I’ had been shortlisted in the Zart Student Art Competition.

“When I heard I’d been shortlisted I was over the moon,” she said. “It feels pretty good knowing the college benefits too.”

Alongside her own prize, Zart gives winners’ schools a generous discount on art materials.

This is her second entry to the competition and Keira’s memories of the 2021 Zart competition are tinged with sadness because a cousin was killed in a car accident soon after.

“The last conversation I had with Janelle, she told me she had voted for my artwork,” Keira remembers. “This year I thought of her as soon as I heard I’d been shortlisted.”

Keira’s beloved cat, Nala, is a feature of the artwork and numerous other pieces. Both an inspiration and great companion, Nala occasionally walks across art pieces in progress.

“I don’t mind,” Keira laughs. “I can usually fix the smudges.”

Nala also stars on a YouTube channel Keira has recently started.

Keira’s artwork was published for the first time when she was in Year 7 at Weeroona College.

She’s since sold three pieces—not bad for an artist who is yet to leave school.

“My Dad took up art too and as well as being a mentor and big fan, he also connects to our Aboriginal heritage which inspires us both,” Keira says.

“I’ve done portraits of Briggs and Scott Darlow and was pretty stoked when Scott responded on social media.”

The list of competitions, exhibitions and commissioned pieces to which Keira has contributed is truly impressive.

“I entered Raw Arts this year as well as the Zart Art Competition,” she says. “I was selected for the Margaret Standen Bursary this year and given the La Trobe Uni Infinity Award in 2021.

Keira is also part of the Djarra Lights and Pennyweight Lane ‘No Longer Mute’ projects and recently contributed to the Dunolly Womens Historical Art Trail, the Knuldoorong exhibition, Vinyl Collective Record exhibition and the Koorie Youth Summit—to name just a few.

Another project Keira took on was a stunning wall sculpture for a kinder, using plastic bottle caps to depict one of Australia’s favourite marsupials—the sugar glider.

Keira is drawn to Neo-expressionism and is particularly inspired by Canadian artist Harry Symons and Australia’s Del Kathryn Barton.

She’s also been playing footy for White Hills for five years and learning bass guitar since Year 7.

“Playing bass was about enhancing my wellbeing,” Keira says. “I had a great connection with my music teacher and became part of the Weeroona College band.”

Keira also listens to a lot of music.

“I’d love a conversation with M&M,” she says. “I would tell him I’m his biggest fan. He’s gotten me through some very hard times.”

When Covid hit, Keira experienced both the artist’s delight in being able to focus more on her artwork and the worry for family members who caught the virus.

“Some of my family were admitted to hospital,” she says. “It was pretty scary, because we couldn’t visit. I used my art to cheer them up.”

Family is very important to Keira and she enjoys great relationships with her parents and grandparents.

“I’m so grateful and impressed by the way our family looks past differences to love everyone,” she says.

Keira’s boyfriend also embodies qualities she deeply appreciates, but the person she’s most proud of is herself.

“I was a pretty naughty kid back in Year 7,” she admits. “I’ve matured so much. Two staff members at Weeroona College—Chris and Carl—really helped me. I began to think about the example I was setting for my younger brothers, and as an Aboriginal person.”

Keira is very clear about how being Aboriginal brings deep belonging to Country especially through her connection to Ancestors.

“I remember years ago there was an interview with Pauline Hanson where she claimed she had the same connection.” Keira remembers. “It was so silly.”

Keira’s Aboriginality has been respected during her time at BSSC and she describes the college as a warm and accepting place.

“The teachers here—especially Sue Pickles and Ash Bird— are fantastic and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander program, along with the Scholars Hut, have meant so much to me,” she says.

“I came to BSSC not sure how to develop my own style, but by the end of Year 11 I knew Year 12 would be all about Art and Music.”

Keira admits her study style might not work for everyone—but it’s brilliant for her art practice.

“I always have the TV going in the background,” she says. “A doco usually. Somehow it improves my focus.”

If Keira could go back in time and offer her younger self some advice, it would be that everything was going to work out really well.

“I’d tell her it doesn’t matter what’s going on around you, you’ll sort it out. Don’t just ‘be good’ so you don’t get into trouble—think about your example and your impact on others.”

Next year Keira will head to TAFE to complete Certificate II in Aboriginal Cultural Art and Certificate II in Visual Art with a plan to move on to uni and complete a degree in Fine Arts.

Long-term she dreams of exhibiting her work widely, of creating a cartoon and publishing a book starring her beloved Nala—all illustrations done by Keira of course—and continuing to develop a website to sell her art.

“What I really want to do is inspire Aboriginal children everywhere to follow their dreams.”