The story of the Minyerri Collection
It all started in February 2018, when Samara Billy came to a Magpie Goose fashion show in Katherine. "I'd love to see some of our designs out there in the world, and to get some of our girls feeling confident like that" - she posted on Facebook that night. She sent us a message - "Come out to Minyerri and let's do some designs for Magpie Goose" - so a month later we loaded up the ute and drove the three hours, past Mataranka, off the Roper Highway, past the Hodgson Downs cattle station, to Minyerri!
Dudley Forbes working on his Dakawa' crayfish design
Well it started six years before that. Through her work with Enterprise Learning Projects (ELP), Laura (Magpie Goose co-founder) has been working with Minyerri community since 2013, supporting the community to learn about and engage in enterprise. Together with her team at ELP, she assisted with the establishment of the Minyerri Arts and Culture Centre and the Gulbarn herbal tea business. Over this time the community has been involved in the creation of many different products that act as vessels to share culture - herbal tea (Gulbarn), bush medicine soap, colouring in books for kids, screen printed bags and t-shirts, and bush food explainer books - so there's a good understanding of sharing culture with the world outside of Minyerri through enterprise!
Samara Billy, Laura Egan, Agnes Wilfred - with jewellery made from the Yalbun/ lily pad.
Everyone was welcome to join us down at the Arts Centre for the workshop. Interest grew as we shared videos of artists from other communities telling the stories of their designs. We went on to demonstrate how a motif or a drawing could be repeated and transferred onto fabric, and then made into clothes! There was lots of discussion as people brainstormed the special stories of Alawa Country. Traditional cultural practices such as hunting, fishing, collecting and cooking bush food featured strongly. Designs were created and then we sat together to explain the next steps involved in creating the collection. Designs were licensed from six artists and then we talked through what would happen next – the choosing of base cloth, the colourway testing, the printing of fabric and the manufacture of clothing in Sydney. Once we had the clothing we promised to return to community to share the collection, and then work towards a Big Launch in Darwin!
Laura and Samuel talking through + signing licensing agreement
In June 2019 we returned to Minyerri with all of the clothes for the community showcase. Darwin photographer Hels Orr joined us to shoot the Minyerri Collection with aspiring models in the community. It was a huge celebration and the artists were so excited to see their designs on clothing. Samuel Daylight (creator of the Goanna design) couldn’t stop telling everyone “my shirt has arrived!!”
We engaged Samara Billy (creator of the Yalbun and Jo Jo design) to engage and co-ordinate people interested in modelling the clothes. She explained that it was a professional opportunity and took them through their ‘talent agreements’ and outlined how they would be paid.
Maggie + Samara explaining modelling contracts out bush!
There was huge energy for the modelling! We organised a number of sessions so we could make sure everyone who wanted to have a go could have their moment to shine! We had the first shoot in beautiful afternoon light on the road heading out of town:
Loresa in Naomi Wilfred's Aboriginal Bush Tools print smock dress
The next morning we went to the swimming spot on the other side of the billabong with the men:
Jones Billy + Dudley Forbes in Samuel Daylight's Goanna/Darbalun + Dudley's Dakawa' design
Then we headed into the art centre to set up for the studio shoot – it was all happening as the modelling crew were posing, changing, dodging dogs, fetching new outfits, and chasing kids out of the way!
Kaye Wilfred in Dudley Forbes' Dakawa design.
That arvo we headed out to Bally Glen - the most beautiful paradise – with red orange cliffs and a tropical oasis surrounding a lush waterhole (no crocs!) We got some amazing shots there!
Jayzena, Loresa and Jeanika in Samara Billy's Yalbun + Jo Jo; Dudley Forbes' Dakawa; and Naomi Wilfred's Aboriginal Bush Tools designs.
At the end of a few days we were exhausted but victorious. Those involved were proud of their work and satisfied about getting paid for their efforts (something that doesn't happen often in remote communities, especially with CDP/Work for the Dole).
Samara and Lettie-Boo exhausted after a huge day
To complete the circle, we had a big launch party in Darwin a few weeks later. We invited all the artists to come up, and had Jones, his partner Loresa (who also modelled), together with Samara and her daughters join us for a wonderful night of sharing the stories of the Minyerri collection. Six prints that teach us about:
- eating the stem of the lily pad just like celery (Yalbun + Jo jo;
- poisoning the water with a native tree to catch the most delicious fish around (Garrjala);
- the Goanna totem (Darbalun);
- grinding the seeds of the lily pad to make flour, then patties (Yalbun);
- the traditional bush tools that Aboriginal people on Alawa country used to use to hunt, make babies strong, and carry bush food (Bush Tools); and
- the delicious crayfish that you can catch in the salty and fresh water rivers around Minyerri! (Dakawa’)
Samara, Loresa + Jones having a laugh watching artist videos
Punters at the Minyerri collection launch in Darwin.
Shop the collection for yourself here.
- Team MG.