Koori Court Elder Uncle Kevin Coombs (pictured centre) was honoured at an event in March where his portrait was unveiled. The Children's Court commissioned artist Weng-Ho Chong to create Uncle Kevin's portrait and will showcase the painting outside the Elders' Room at Melbourne.
Uncle Kevin participated in three drawing sessions in his own home, where Chong came to know the former Koori Court Elder and his personality. During the first sitting, Chong recalls says he made a series of quick sketches, including one of Uncle Kevin in his wheelchair. Plans for the portrait evolved when the artist decided that the painting should be more than a literal representation of Uncle Kevin, also reflecting his character and legacy.
“Uncle Kevin is a great character, not in the least a shrinking flower. When I asked if he minded me taking snapshots, he grinned and said, ‘In interviews, I'm the first one to say: Where's the camera?’” Chong says.
“All through the process Uncle Kevin was totally dignified and unflustered, both ready to be interrogated but also to keep still when I needed to concentrate - an ideal subject!”
Uncle Kevin, who hails from the Aboriginal community in Balranald NSW, became a paraplegic at the age of 12 as the result of a shooting accident. Among the highlights of his professional life include captaining Australia’s national wheelchair basketball team and representing Australia as an elite sportsman at five Paralympic Games. Later, in the early 80s he was invited to set up the first Koori Health Unit, which established Aboriginal medical services throughout Victoria.
In 2005 Uncle Kevin supported the work of the newly established Children’s Koori Court as an Elder. Up until his retirement last year, he had served as an Elder with Victoria’s Koori Courts for 17 years.
Children’s Court President Judge Chambers says the portrait is a fitting way to honour Uncle Kevin’s lifetime contributions to the Victorian community.
“The Children's Court wanted to honour Uncle Kevin's legacy and the difference he has made to the lives of many people who have appeared before the Koori Courts. His portrait will serve as a lasting reminder of a proud and dignified Indigenous man, who contributed a great deal to Victoria's justice system,” Judge Chambers says.
“Beyond the law, Uncle Kevin's stellar sporting career and tireless work for the health sector have also been significant. We are delighted to honour his contributions in this way.”