Eden water tower mural artist a ‘victim of life’, says pastor

Eden Aboriginal Elder Uncle Ossie Cruise with Bega Valley Regional Gallery director Iain Dawson at the installation on the water tower.

Eden Aboriginal Elder Uncle Ossie Cruise with Bega Valley Regional Gallery director Iain Dawson at the installation on the water tower.

Respected Aboriginal Elder and pastor Ossie Cruse has defended Bega Valley Shire Council's decision to mount a giant mural by a convicted criminal on Eden's water tower.

The mural, titled 'Jungar Hunter', is from an original work by Eden Indigenous artist Lee Cruse who was sentenced to 15 months' jail for domestic violence-related assault, stalking and intimidation, and predatory driving in October 2016.

'Jungar Hunter' was installed on January 9 after Bega Valley Regional Gallery made a successful grant application to Regional Arts NSW in 2015.

"Lee Cruse’s mural has its rightful place, on the Bell Bird Eden water tower, the gateway to Eden," Uncle Ossie said this week.

"We were all so proud of Lee’s acquired artistic skills which he is currently sharing with so many sections of our community within the Bega Valley shire, in our art galleries, our schools and on the banners that proudly wave above our main street in Eden,” he said.

Uncle Ossie said Lee Cruse was a “seriously tormented soul" who, at the age of nine, had witnessed his friend being crushed to death by a gravel truck while riding their bikes in Eden.

We who know Lee Cruse do not see him as a criminal but rather as a victim of real life.

Ossie Cruse

“Unfortunately there are no psychological healings that can wash away those stains from Lee’s heart and mind, but I believe that the Lord God has given Lee Cruse internal fortitude and resilience to raise himself out of his lifelong struggle and given the love and assistance of family, friends and community he will be a role model to others who face impossible tasks,” he said.

Uncle Ossie said the "negative actions” that plagued Aboriginal people were being tackled head on with groups such as Social Justice Advocacy and projects such as the Bundian Way.

Reaction on social media to Fairfax Media’s reporting of the issue was divided. Some people commended the artwork and condemned the scrutiny of Lee Cruse’s personal life, while others wanted the mural removed saying it sent the wrong message to the community on domestic violence.

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Pastor Ossie Cruse’s full letter

I wish to express my sincere appreciation to Fairfax Media for drawing our attention to Lee Cruse's mural painting, which is in the most appropriate position on the Bell Bird water tower. As one of the senior Elders of the Eden Aboriginal community, I see the unique opportunity to share this positive action to advance powerful expression of the advancements of Aboriginal peoples’ contribution to the wealth and prosperity of our region adding in concert the value of the quality of life for all peoples living within the Bega Valley Shire and beyond.

As Linda, Lee Cruse’s partner and I stood together with their three beautiful children and Linda’s mother, we stood together in aware and wonder as we watched the unfolding of Lee Cruse’s mural and we were all so proud of Lee’s acquired artistic skills which he is currently sharing with so many sections of our community within the Bega Valley Shire in our art galleries, our schools and his artwork on the banners that proudly waved above our main street in Eden.

You see editor, we who know Lee Cruse, do not see him as a criminal but rather we see him as a victim for real life. Lee had to fight a battle far greater than most us, and the costs have been so painful for him to bear alone and thanks be to God Almighty whom I believe has given him the skills and the courage to maintain sanity in the light of his atrocious childhood experience.

At the age of about nine years, Lee Cruse befriended a young friend his same age and both loved to race their bikes in the back streets of Eden. In those days some back streets were not sealed and as they rode their bikes in Happy Valley a truck loaded with gravel came past them, they decided to race the truck. Lee’s friend was in front and as the truck drew level with him he fell off his bike and rolled under the back wheels. Lee stood helpless and saw his friend crushed to death. 

Unfortunately there are no physiological healings that can wash away those stains from Lee’s heart and mind, but I believe that the Lord God has given Lee Cruse internal fortitude and resilience to raise himself out of his lifelong struggle. And given the love and assistance of family, friends and community he will be a role model to others who face impossible tasks. There is no mistake by arts agencies and local government. Lee Cruse’s actions were not of a criminal but a seriously tormented soul about to prove his worth and use his artistic skill for benefit to all.

On the other issue editor, the negative community actions that plague Aboriginal Peoples in the nation are taken head on in our Far South Coast Community. In particular, Eden LALC working together with Bega Valley Shire Council, forged a memorandum of understanding and it was the first in Australia.

The Eden Local Aboriginal Land Council has charge of one of the great national interest projects, the Bundian Way, under chairmanship of BJ Cruse, and staff developed the Eden waterfront walk way and many other ventures in partnership with local community agencies plus churches.

We applaud the artworks of Aboriginal artists Joe Stewart’s Paintings in the Keeping Place and Bega Hospital, Ty Cruse’s murals in Eden Public School, Donna Cruse along with many other Aboriginal artists, youth and aged. Lee Cruse’s mural has its rightful place, on the Bell Bird Eden water tower, the gateway to Eden.

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