How art is helping strengthen mental health in Charleville

The Charleville and District Cultural Association received an Australia Post People of Post Grant to fund the art classes that were helping people connect and strengthen their mental health.

It began with a simple question from a 73-year-old lady. Can you teach me to draw?

This question came at the right time for Carmel Williams. She had just retired after 27 years with Australia Post and was looking to fill her time. So naturally, she said yes.

That art class very quickly went from two ladies to a group of 15 who now gather every Wednesday night at the Charleville and District Cultural Association to chat and paint. That was two years ago. Today, Carmel leads four fully booked art sessions each week.

“The ladies paint pots, do canvases and learn to draw,” Carmel says. “You’d be surprised at how good they are. They’re blown away by their own work too and keep coming back for more.”

When one door closes

Charleville is a rural southwestern Queensland town with a population of just under 4,000. It’s a transient town with people often transferring in and out for work. Carmel arrived in Charleville from Cairns in 1983 – and she stayed.

“Charleville has such a great, friendly little community,” she says. “Everyone knows and supports each other. I was the Postal Manager of the Charleville Post Office for about two decades and it was truly wonderful. It was hard to retire.”

Carmel turned to her art in the first weeks of retirement to keep busy and stave off the loneliness. She decided her new project would be painting pots instead of canvases.

After amassing a little collection, Carmel started gifting her pots to friends and selling them at a local craft shop. Soon after, she was asked to teach her first art session. And it took off from there.

“It’s so rewarding,” Carmel says. “I love their enthusiasm and I’m learning from them too. We sometimes invite guest artists to lead the session but it’s expensive to get them to come out to the bush.”

So Carmel did the next best thing. She proposed a Digital Arts Workshops project that would give her sessions access to online art tutorials. In 2022, her project received funding from Australia Post’s People of Post Grants program.

Flat lay of floral paintings done in water colour.
Making art is often an effective way of supporting your mental wellbeing.

Funding a worthy cause

Carol Butler is the current Postal Manager at Charleville. She’s also a huge supporter of the Charleville and District Cultural Association for its various community events and activities.

When nominations for the 2022 People of Post Grants program opened last year, Carol immediately nominated the Association for its Digital Art Workshops project. Her nomination won the project a $1,000 grant.

“The first thing I bought was a smart TV which was very exciting!” Carmel says. “I also bought art supplies like pencils, acrylic paints, watercolour sets, brushes and canvases. We’re now like a kickstart for people who want to give art a go.”

“The Association charges $5 a session and I use that fee to replenish the art supplies so we’re not completely reliant on funding. It has worked out really well. Like someone said, where else could you get a great night out for $5?”

Improving mental health through art

Carmel remembers a time when art was her path to healing after losing her son. At the time she committed to a doodle a day to give herself a break from the grief.

“Today the art sessions ease the loneliness and isolation of retirement,” she says. “It’s been good for my mental health. Making art is a wonderful way to cope with things that happen in your life.”

“I’d say it’s the same for the other ladies. Many of them are bereaved or cancer survivors. Being among like-minded people with a shared experience is good for them. The friendships they build help draw them back into the community.”

As a member of the Charleville Art Gallery Committee, Carmel is involved in shaping its exhibitions. She’s currently helping organise an exhibition that pays tribute to famous artists and another around the theme of mental health.

“I'm giving back to the community,” she says. “We help and learn from each other. It’s something quite fantastic.”

Supporting local communities through grants

Through the People of Post Grants program, we’re supporting the projects our people are passionate about and helping to create positive outcomes in local communities across Australia.