Our Journey To Arnhem Land ~ Sharing Design Skills With First Nations Women
Earlier in the year, some of our team were invited to visit a remote community and help teach young First Nation women how to design and create a capsule clothing collection. Our Senior Garment Technician, Angela Piper, and Designer, Taylor Barnard, had the privilege of spending valuable time across two weeks with the beautiful community, hearing their stories and learning from one another. The program is run by the Bábbarra Women’s Centre located seven hours’ drive east of Darwin in Maningrida. Originally designed as a women’s refuge, the community centre operates as a social enterprise employing First Nation artists, training women in new skills and providing a safe place to practise art.
Read more about Angela and Taylor’s time in the community below.
TEACHING STUDENTS ABOUT CREATIVE DESIGN
“I really had no idea what to expect when I left for Maningrida,” Taylor said. “It was going to be my first time teaching a class by myself, visiting the Northern Territory and travelling to such a remote location. I was nervous, but also so excited.”
Taylor arrived first in Maningrida to run the first week of the program and teach about the creative design process.
“I spent the first day meeting the ladies who worked at the centre, familiarising myself with the print studio and preparing for the workshop. It was amazing to observe the ladies' screen printing throughout the day and how they preserved their ancestorial stories with each print.”
Bábbarra Women’s Centre had been experiencing a period where most of their artists were from an older generation, and they wanted to encourage young women in the area who may be disengaged from their school or community and provide pathways to learn different skills.
Six young daluk (women) attended the first day of the workshop where they researched, sought inspiration from the centre’s artwork, collaged and drew to spark ideas. The rest of the week was spent working on fashion sketching and colouring techniques to give the young daluk the skills to put their ideas on paper.
“It was great to see the group grow with each activity and how their passion came through their work. I also loved the moments when the ladies working in the centre would come over to see what the group had been working on and share their thoughts.
“The time when the students would stay back after the sessions or arrive early excited for the day was very special to me. It was so encouraging to hear about their lives, families and dreams for the future.
“Similarly, hearing from the older daluk in the centre about moving between homes in Maningrida and their outstations was so eye-opening. They were all incredibly talented, and it was so interesting to learn about their artworks, bush dye techniques and print creation workshops.
“The week was full of new experiences for everyone involved, fostering connections between the young daluk, the women working in the centre and our team.”
EXPLORING, LISTENING AND ENGAGING WITH THE COMMUNITY
Angela arrived for the second week of the program on Friday and had the opportunity to meet the group early.
“Everyone was so welcoming and excited to learn about these new skills in a remote area that didn’t often have resources available.”
Taylor and Angela had the weekend to explore the area and were taken around by the managers of Bábbarra to see nearby outstations and homeland areas. One of the ladies had caught a fish a few days beforehand, so they built a fire and roasted the fish with potatoes on a remote beach called Rocky Point in the Djelk area.
“It was one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in the world and we were in awe of a tropical wet season storm that rolled in from the west and headed out to sea,” Angela shares. “I must admit I was hoping to see a crocodile (from afar) but no such wildlife appeared. I did feel like quite the city slicker when I was searching for a leaf to use as a plate for our fish and potatoes when I disturbed a whole swarm of green ants from their nest.”
“Maningrida is a beautiful town where the striking rich red dirt contrasts with the vibrant greenery.”
Taylor and Ange spent Sunday in the Maningrida op shop, also run by the women's centre, organising donations that arrived and setting up the store for the week. As the town's only clothing store, many locals were eager to check out the new deliveries.
BRINGING THE CAPSULE COLLECTION TO LIFE THROUGH PATTERNMAKING AND SEWING
As Taylor headed home, Angela led the second week of the program to bring the designs to life. This meant patternmaking and printing the fabric screens. Everyone cut out the patterns together and started learning to sew.
“This was a real highlight for the group, with many of the girls staying back after the lesson to practice their seams and overlocking. We loved seeing the elders involved in the program and forging intergenerational relationships.
“I was initially a little apprehensive of how this would go as it’s a lot of information to teach in just a week but the girls really embraced the program and gave everything a go. It was such a rewarding experience to see how excited they were to learn these new skills, particularly among some of the group who were disengaged from school.
“There were some participants who were painfully shy and would retreat if asked a question or would be too nervous to participate in a group setting. To see these girls come out of their shells and place trust in me was very emotional, especially considering some of the challenges these girls face with housing overcrowding issues, language barriers and disconnection from schools and community.
“It was a really special moment for me to realise that the group so valued all the knowledge that I had gained in my career. I was so grateful for the opportunity to share this knowledge with a community that would not otherwise have had the chance to learn it.”
“We managed to bring to life three designs of our capsule collection over the two-week program, including designing, sketching, patternmaking, screenprinting, cutting and sewing. This was a massive achievement in the time frame and the group was so proud of all they’d learned and achieved.
“I can’t wait to go back to the community again. Living in such a remote town has its challenges, but Maningrida is also an incredibly beautiful place to visit with so many amazing people. To see how First Nations people connect with the land, live and pass down their stories from one generation to the next is not something I’d experienced before and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to witness it.”