It's a red letter day for the Gamilaroi community as the sod is turned on the Rainbow Serpent water feature.
A group of Indigenous female artists behind cultural project were all smiles as they realised their long-awaited vision was coming to life.
The 9.2m long sculpture is being constructed in the forecourt of The Civic Centre and will feature 32 handcrafted mosaic tiles illustrating koalas, turtles, cockatoos, lizards, fish, Aboriginal tools, children's hands, and the Red Chief, among other images.
The original design of the rainbow serpent was developed by Glen Innes artist Max Powell and fellow artist Bronwyn McKean from drawings completed by Aboriginal leader Ellen Draper.
Gloria Foley was one of the original group of 10 women who were taught how to make the tiles by Mr Powell, Jan Shedden and Jill Watkins.
At the sod-turning at The Civic Centre on Friday, Ms Foley said it was great to see the project going ahead "after all these years".
"It's going to be an eye-opener for the whole community," she said.
The women said they were pleased with the final design, which is "bigger than we thought it was".
The $274,258 project is being carried out by specialist Waterforms International and local contractors including Frank Capezio Concreting, Thompsons Electrical and Pete Jensen Plumbing are involved.
Gunnedah Shire Council's Lauren Mackley has been working alongside the Kamilaroi women in preparation for the start of the "spectacular project" and said it would "recognise the integral and important role of Indigenous heritage in our shire" and become "a meeting place to share stories".
Former Performing Arts and Cultural Centre committee chair, Cr Owen Hasler, has long supported the project and said it would be "a wonderful piece of Aboriginal public art".
"Gunnedah has 13 per cent of our population - five times the state and national average - who identify as Indigenous, hence, it is marvellous to see that we are proudly recognising this fact and having this artwork, which depicts some of the rich heritage and culture of Aboriginal people of the Gamilaroi nation," he said on Friday.
Tamworth MP Kevin Anderson came along for the sod-turning and said it was a "a cracker of a project".
"The more we see, the more we understand ... [the project[ helps us to understand the land we stand on," he said.
"It's very exciting and an honour and a privilege to be part of it. Thank you for including me."
The feature is expected to take about two months to complete.
The Rainbow Serpent feature started as a public art project plan, designed by artists Max Powell and Bronwyn McKean.
The Two Rivers Arts Council (TRAC) successfully applied to the Australia Council for the Arts (CEAD grant) and carried out community consultation in 2001 to inform artwork designs for the linkage spaces within the cultural precinct.
This consultation was facilitated and managed by Jill Watkins and highlighted the community's strong connection to the river, local fauna and flora.
These elements became prominent features in Mr Powell's and Ms McKean's designs and the first two artworks to enter the creation phase at The Civic were the River Red Gum Tree (installed in 2002) and the Water Mural (installed in 2005).
Ellen Draper was the Red Chief Local Aboriginal Lands Council chair at the time, allowing for consultation with the Aboriginal community for the third project, which became the Rainbow Serpent water feature.
Ms Draper provided her own drawings as reference material for the final design and the project master plan of artworks was presented to the council in December 2001.
TRAC secured funding from the Indigenous Arts Fund (Ministry for the Arts) and engaged Mavis Stone and Mr Powell to deliver a design workshop in August 2002 to interested members of the Aboriginal community.
The workshop focused on the skills needed to design the circular mosaic elements and taught the art of glass mosaic. Participants were then invited to form an arts group to design and create all circular elements needed for the water feature.
The group of Aboriginal women, including Ellen Draper, Shirley Long, June Cox, Janet Wanless, Delma Jones,Gloria Foley, Alison Cox, Cindy Foley and Rita Long, continued to meet and create the circular mosaic tiles until 2008.
In December 2018, the Rainbow Serpent project was awarded $155,725 through the $100 million NSW Government Regional Cultural Fund, adding to the council's 54 per cent contribution to the total.
Background provided by Cr Owen Hasler.