Cairns artist explores ‘art of rainbows’ at Brisbane Pride Festival


Cairns-based artist Arone Meeks
Photo: Supplied

A Kuku Midigi man of the eastern Cape York Rainforest, Arone’s first art training was of a traditional nature, learnt from his grandfather and other elders.

The First Nations peoples of the Cape York rainforest lived in the most densely populated area of Australia prior to the arrival of Europeans. A smallpox epidemic swept the continent in the late 1700s, decimating their numbers. With no previous exposure to the disease, and therefore no immunity, Aboriginal Australians were defenceless.

Large numbers died. Some sources speculate 50% of the population, many killed by the disease without ever seeing a white person.

The Kuku Midigi were otherwise untouched for almost a century following the British appropriation of Australia. But in the 1870s, one of the biggest gold rushes in Australian history took place in their vicinity.

Men poured into the area from around the world in pursuit of riches and the Queensland Government dispatched the Native Police to ‘disperse the natives’. Dispersal all too often meant slaughter.

Arone Meeks’ art is informed by the beauty of his country. But also by the culture and traditions of the Kuku Midigi and the history of the collision with European expansion. His work is found in galleries around the world. He studied and worked in places as diverse as France, India and the United States.

The renowned illustrator of children’s books received a UNICEF Award for Enora and the Black Crane, which he also wrote.

“Enora’s people are surrounded by delicious bush foods and amazing animals. When Enora discovers a shimmering rainbow of colour flying through the forest, his curiosity overwhelms him. Ignoring the pleas of his family, he sets out to discover its meaning.”

Arone’s most recent collection Megaloo to Murray Island came about after a residency at Megaloo Studio in Canberra along with workshops on Warraber and Mer Murray Islands in the Torres Strait.

Gail Mabo

The daughter of the late Eddie Mabo asked Arone to create works based on the achievements of her father in his battle for Land Rights.

Coming up, Arone has been asked to illustrate a book on his own white ancestor, Albert Meek, sent to Australia to collect bird and insect specimens by Lord Rothschild.

Meek accidentally discovered the world’s largest butterfly. He shot a Queen Alexandra Birdwing dead, mistaking it for a bird!

Now based in Cairns with long-time partner, fellow artist Tex, Arone continues a prodigious output of magnificent work across a variety of mediums.

His work is visually sumptuous, with a masterful use of rich vibrant jewel-like colour. Highly appropriate for an artist who belongs to two communities closely associated with the rainbow.

“The colours are reflective of the landscape that I live in. I’m blessed to live in a spectacular natural environment. The vibrant colours are similar to what you find in nature in Tropical North Queensland, and also speak to the rainbow serpent.”

Beyond the visual, Arone’s art also addresses issues close to his heart.

“My work often reflects my concerns about the global migration of cultures and peoples and the treatment of those migrants by governments. The cost to humanity is great.

“I also pay homage to Keith Haring, a champion for HIV awareness. I have a passion for combining art and sexual health messages. HIV and STIs are still here, and we need to be vigilant.”

Arone’s passion for HIV awareness and sexual health promotion carries over from his art into more practical measures. He works as an educator across Northern Queensland and the Torres Strait. HIV and sexual health-related causes have also benefitted from his generous donations of artworks over many years.

Arone Meeks RIP

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Destiny Rogers

Destiny Rogers embarked on her career in the media industry immediately after high school, initially joining Mirror News, which later evolved into News Ltd. She fondly recalls editing Ian Byford's 'Passing Glances: A History of Gay Cairns' as one of her most fulfilling projects. Additionally, Destiny co-researched and co-wrote 'The Queen's Ball', chronicling the history of the world's longest-running continuous queer event. Her investigative work on the history of Australia's COON Cheese and Edward Coon culminated in the publication 'COON: More Holes than Swiss Cheese', a collaborative effort with Dr. Stephen Hagan. Destiny's journey at QNews began as a feature writer, and she was subsequently elevated to the role of Managing Editor of QNews Magazine in 2018. However, in July 2022, she decided to resign from this role to refocus on research and feature writing. For contact, please reach out at destinyr@qnews.com.au.

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