From oil and gas to acrylic and canvas – artist talk with Leah Cummins

Sunday, 3 July 2022

Every step along the winding path of life weaves together a rich and unique story.

Describing a single moment is no easy task. I guess that is why we have poets, filmmakers, musicians, and painters.

But is it possible to tell an entire story in a single moment? How do you paint the narrative of an organisation stretching across Australia and touching the lives of so many?

That is the challenge we set for Leah Cummins when we commissioned her to paint EPIC Assist’s (EPIC) journey.

Leah is an artist and foremost a proud Aboriginal woman of the Mayi people in Northwest Queensland.

Leah Cummins smiles
Portrait of Leah Cummins

“I’m Mayi-Kulan on my dad’s side and Kalkadoon on my mother’s side,” Leah said.

Spoiler, Leah succeeded in meeting this unusual challenge. Leah painted the outstanding artwork you see before you. Leah wasn’t always an artist. Before the pandemic, she travelled a very different path.

“I worked as a geoscientist in oil and gas. I did that for some 11 years and before that, I was in mining exploration,” she said.

But nothing lasts forever and like many others, the pandemic caused major changes to Leah’s life.

“With COVID there was a lot of mental health issues going around the office,” she said.

“Being isolated from my team members was hard. So, when I took my long service, I just started painting for my anxiety. When I paint, I paint the story of my father and my mother’s country. I just enjoy it so much.”

Leah painted for the entirety of her long service, crafting various journeys and artworks of her life and those around her. After selling a few paintings online, Leah quickly realised a new adventure was calling.

“I calculated that I would earn more money being at home painting people’s stories than working in the office,” she explained.

This was a significant crossroad in Leah’s life. The thought of giving up work, friends, and colleagues for the unknown seemed both terrifying and exhilarating. But the idea of returning to work felt all too comfortable, safe, and filled with questions about what could have been.   

“I kept thinking about the concept of time and life,” Leah said. 

“This is my chance to do something I want to do. I want to value my time and I want to relax. I was a bit nervous. I didn’t know what to do because when you’re an adult, you got bills to pay, and I have a mortgage. But I want to wake up at 9:00 am and go for breakfast every morning. I want to paint when I want to. So, if I want to paint at 2:00 am, I can do that. It was a big leap of faith, but I did it.”

Although Leah ultimately decided to leave her work in oil and gas for acrylics and canvas, she is very grateful for all the lessons she learned within this industry.

“I owe my artistic talents to my time being in the bush,” Leah said.

Leah Cummins signing the back of her painting commissioned for EPIC Assist
Leah Cummins signing the back of her painting commissioned for EPIC Assist.

“Doing that taught me to paint and tell stories about country.”

Leah said she doesn’t have a specific style for her art, because she doesn’t like to make two things alike. And whilst two pieces may never look the same, Leah said there is one consistent thread woven throughout her work: knowledge.

“Art is an educational opportunity. That’s the biggest thing I’ll ever want to give people through my work,” she said.

“The opportunity for people to learn something they’ve never seen before. I want people to say I’ve learned so much from this. And hopefully every time they look at an Indigenous artwork in the future, they’ll understand the story before they read the blurb.”

About the art

An artwork in the style of Aboriginal dot painting that tells EPIC Assist's story. At the centre is EPIC. Lines break off from EPIC to show the various communities and stakeholders we work with.
Ngana Yanda Ngalingali (A Connected Journey) by Leah Cummins

Ngana Yanda Ngalingaliin (A Connected Journey) tells the story of EPIC and its connection to the community at large.

“It is the journey to connect with community, assist people with disability, and return dignity, confidence, and strength,” Leah said.

“EPIC is the centre; it’s represented as a gathering of people working towards common goals and aspirations. I designed it with the sole focus of EPIC being in the middle.

“The yellow lines travelling outwards from the centre are journey lines. These lines are the paths that EPIC Assist takes towards connecting with the community.”

The six elements surrounding EPIC represent the different ways EPIC connects with the community. These elements are:

A red circle surrounded by white dots. Inside is a semi circle with red dots inside.

Bunya bunjil

“Bun-ya” (woman) “bun-jil” (man): an individual who connects to EPIC Assist and uses our services.

A red circle surrounded by white dots. Inside is a coolamon meeting place.


Meeting around a coolamon. One-on-one connection with a person. Coolamon is a symbol of care for others. It is a symbol for listening, hearing stories and building trust.

A red circle surrounded by white dots. Inside is a bora meeting place


“Bora” (meeting place). Bora is a common Indigenous word for a meeting circle or grounds. A place for celebrating and meeting.

A red circle surrounded by white dots. Inside is a yanda community coming together.


“Yan-da” (large group). This symbolises people coming together to sit with one another.

A red circle surrounded by white dots. Inside is a young and old individual, passing knowledge between each other.


Young and old: passing down knowledge. Sharing this knowledge is a way of ensuring the younger generation can grow into amazing human beings and be strong and independent.

A red circle surrounded by white dots. Inside is the symbol of our ancestors and the people who have come before us.


This symbol represents the past people who have come before us: our ancestors. They are important in guiding us in a direction that has build strength and resilience.

The symbols around EPIC hold for many other groups in society. As the old saying goes, there is a little bit of the artist in every piece of their work. Speaking to Leah, you can soon understand how knowledge and community play an important element in her life.

“My nephew has autism and the way he calms down is through drawing, singing, and dancing,” she said.

“He has taught me that if you start doing things you enjoy, you’ll be a bit more chilled out, a bit less stressed, and overall happier.

“We only have one life. Time is so valuable. So, finding that harmonious journey will bring you a better quality of life with more happiness and joy.”

What could be better?

No two paths will ever look the same, but if you are looking for a disability employment service that can help you navigate your journey, contact our friendly team at EPIC Assist today.

For more information on Leah Cummins and her outstanding work visit her Facebook, Instagram, Website or Etsy.

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