Good People: Model Rhondell Williams

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(from L-R Mable Daylight, Letisha Gabori, Rhondell Williams, Alma Williams)

The Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival (VAMFF) which was held earlier this month, hosted an exciting fashion showcase celebrating Indigenous design- Birrimbi Dulgu Bajal. The showcase celebrated the vibrant cultures of Far North Queensland, through an integration of dance, music & fashion.

A number of models from North Queensland and the Torres Strait were invited to participate and share story and tradition on the contemporary catwalk. One of those models was the amazing Rhondell Williams (pictured second from the right). In her own words, Rhondell shares her story and a bit about her journey to VAMFF.

I grew up surrounded by lots of mums and dads.

My Mum is one of the traditional owners of Bentinck Island and Dad is from Birri Country of Mornington Island. I spent a lot of my young life at the outstation of Birri, watching the stars at night as Pa Johnny Williams explained what the stars meant and the traditional stories of our mob.

He was one of the famous Woomera Dancers in his young days.

He travelled all over the world. He is still a very respected elder and artist in our community.I still like to watch him paint, sit down with him and listen to him yarn- learn about our culture and country- and hear him explain what he’s painting that day.

My Mum Betty is also an artist.

She paints at the art centre (Mirndiyan Gununa Aboriginal Corporation) and she makes lovely silk felts. One day she came home excited- telling us her collection was going to be debuted at a Melbourne Fashion Festival.

Who would have thought that I would become one of the six girls selected to take our art all the way to Melbourne!?

We girls were so excited to be a part of the show. It’s funny to think that in the not too distant past, we were running along the beach as kids- fishing and camping- even hunting for wild honey, goannas and wallabies. Goanna is my favourite tucker- especially cooked over coals…and it’s true- it tastes like chicken!”

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Positive Changemaking with Carly Wallace

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Carly Wallace has made a career out of inspiring others. A bona fide media maven, she entered the world of radio and television to bring about more positive representations of Indigenous Australia. She is motivated by her heritage, a fierce loyalty to her family and the power of storytelling.

Despite having faced more personal tragedy than most, she channels her diverse life experiences into a positive energy that she shares with others, particularly in her new role as a National Presenter and communications assistant at the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME).

One of AIME’s major fundraising events National Hoodie Day is coming up in the next few weeks, so I thought it was the perfect time to catch up with Carly to find out more about her work with this game changing organisation, but also to dig a little deeper to really understand what makes her tick.

In her own words, Carly talks about how her personal journey has led her to this exciting new role, her commitment to giving voice to everyday Australians through her media work and why we should all be wearing AIME Hoodies on July 10 (and taking selfies in them!)

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(Carly with Catherine Satour & I on the set of ‘Our Songs’ at NITV)

I am a Dulguburra Yidinji woman from the Atherton Tablelands in Far North Queensland. I am now based in Brisbane and have the privilege of working two amazing jobs.

I am a National Presenter and communications assistant for the Australian Indigenous Mentoring Experience (AIME) and I also work part time for National Indigenous Television (NITV) as a television presenter.

I get to work with hundreds of Indigenous kids from all over Queensland in my role with AIME, watch them grow and achieve their goals and dreams. I have the opportunity to create positivity and change for our next generation of Indigenous students and that alone motivates me to get out of bed everyday.

I am lucky to have been brought up in a strong family unit where I was encouraged to always give things a go. That motivation to keep striving and achieving and make my family proud inspires me in both of my jobs and in my everyday life.

When I’m not in the office working on AIME’s social media platforms, I’m out travelling as far as Rockhampton, Gladstone, The Sunshine Coast or Gympie, delivering its educational mentoring program.

The best thing about my jobs is that no two days are ever the same. I am often out working with Indigenous students in years 9-12 in my National Presenter role with AIME and I’m also often filming stories for NITV in my spare time. I love being able to travel and meet students and people from all over the state.

After a long day of travel and work, I head home and chill with my little brother who is 17 years old.

Media is a huge part of who I am. When I first began my career in radio, I was a shy teenager, had a lot of self esteem issues and suffered massively from shame.

I have worked in the media industry since I was 19 years old, predominantly in radio and then with NITV over the last few years. I always loved music and talking and telling stories though, so I forced myself to do radio in order to break out of the shame factor.

Over the past decade, media has taken me to so many places and has allowed my self confidence to grow massively. I have worked in both Indigenous media and non Indigenous media. I love the storytelling element of media. I love being able to tell positive stories, especially about Indigenous people. As a teenager, I would get angry with the way media portrayed us on radio and TV so I used this as motivation to pursue a career in the industry with hopes of changing a lot of those stereotypes from the inside.

But at the end of 2010, I lost my mum suddenly and took a hiatus from the media industry to move back to North Queensland from Sydney where I was working for ABC 702 at the time, to start raising my little brother who was 13 years old.

It was a massive shock to the system to walk away from my career to raise my brother but something I don’t regret doing. I missed radio at first and found it hard to get back into working in media due to the location of where we were living in North Queensland.

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I wasn’t sure I’d ever make it back into the media industry and struggled for a few years without work until I moved my brother and I to Brisbane in 2013.

It was then that I started with NITV and began a new chapter in my media career, making the switch from radio to television. At the end of 2014, a job came up with AIME in Brisbane and I applied for it and got the position as a casual national presenter. I felt this job would allow me to use my media skills to help inspire the next generation of Indigenous youth and it worked well alongside my job with NITV.

Over the course of this past year, I have realised that my story and my journey, the good and the bad, has led me to this job with AIME. I am now full time with AIME as a National Presenter and communications assistant where I get to combine my love of working with Indigenous youth and storytelling and use my media skills to run the AIME Twitter and Instagram pages. I am extremely grateful that I am able to do a job that I love where I get to share my story and the message that Indigenous=Success to the next generation of Indigenous youth.

The most rewarding part of my role with AIME is seeing the individual changes that occur in every student from when they first begin the AIME program to when they finish. I get to see kids smash that shame factor.

It’s great to see them go on to achieve everything they want to during school and beyond. To be able to have a hand in influencing young Indigenous lives everyday is something I never take for granted and something I hold close to my heart.

Every AIME site I get to work at, whether it’s Rockhampton, Brisbane, Gladstone, Gympie or The Sunshine Coast, I am always in awe of the students and mentors I meet and work with. I get to witness Reconciliation first hand every day. They all inspire me with their dreams and goals of becoming doctors, builders, engineers, teachers and even Prime Ministers. I get to witness these students finish high school despite the odds they face on a daily basis and continue to create Indigenous success in this country.

National Hoodie Day is AIME’s winter fundraiser and is coming up on Friday 10 July 2015.

It’s a chance for the whole nation to don an AIME hoodie to support our goal of more Indigenous kids finishing school at the same rate as every Australian child. Every limited edition hoodie sold brings AIME closer to working with 10,000 Indigenous kids annually across Australia by 2018.

We also have a national hoodie day competition online using the hashtag #hoodieday15 . For those that want to get involved, you can win some dope prizes just by uploading a photo of yourself in our 2015 AIME Hoodies, posting it onto your Facebook, Twitter or Instagram pages and using the hashtag #hoodieday15. This year’s hoodies are red, black and yellow and are selling fast so get in quick. You can get involved by purchasing a hoodie from our shop page and wearing it with pride!

If you are a uni student at one of our partnered universities, you can also jump onto our website and sign up to become a mentor for our program.

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One of my personal highlights from the past 11 years has been graduating with my diploma in radio broadcasting from The Australian Film Television and Radio School (AFTRS) in Sydney.

I was also lucky enough to win the AV Myer Award for Indigenous Excellence on the same day. Making the switch from radio to television has also been a highlight, as well as being able to travel and deliver radio workshops to Indigenous Broadcasters across Australia on behalf of AFTRS.

I’ve met so many people and interviewed famous musicians and politicians to everyday, inspiring people like artists, teachers and doctors. I have covered many events from National NAIDOC Balls, to the Yabun Festival and other cultural events. I’ve met fashion designers, young people and elders and travelled to some of the most remote places in Australia.

No matter what the event or story is, I always realise how blessed I am to have the opportunity to give a voice to everyday Australians through the medium of radio and television.

Find out more about National Hoodie Day and get involved!

Creative Costuming with Jennifer Irwin

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The Sydney season of Bangarra Dance Theatre’s Patyegarang ended last night, with yet another inspired performance on the Sydney Opera House stage. (After being so popular, the season was actually extended!) The show now tours the country, ready to wow audiences the nation over.

I saw the show twice and was blown away by everything from the choreography to the historical tale itself, but as usual, I couldn’t shake my fascination with the style and design aspects of this stunning production.

After having had the opportunity to chat to one of the Bangarra dancers earlier in the season, I was fortunate enough to recently steal a few moments with costume designer Jennifer Irwin, to chat about how she started out in the industry, the creative process of costume design and how she creates style with purpose.

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Firstly, how did you get involved in cosutume design? Is it something you always wanted to do?

I did an art course and then I did a technical theatre course which helped me to connect with a regional theatre company in the late 70s, but my first real job was with the Sydney Dance Company.

I actually majored in scenic art but I knew that I could always sew. I became a costume assistant at the dance company in 1980 and I stayed there for 16 years on and off and that’s where I met Stephen Page. Our generation of people in dance all kind of grew up together. And of course, Stephen and I got along very well and he went off to start his company and through our connection, I had an opportunity to go and work with Bangarra.

I’ve known Stephen for over 25 years, right from the early days when Bangarra were doing very small projects. In fact, I have worked on most of the Bangarra shows over the years from the very first one to now. The thing about working in a dance company is that it’s a little family.

The dance industry is one I’ve been in for years and I guess that’s due to the fact that I’ve just been at the right place at the right time and now, it’s what I know and love.

Can you tell us a bit about the creative process of designing for a show like Patyegarang?

We start with getting together with the creative team- Stephen, the set designer and I. You’ve really got to break down the scenes and the looks at the beginning of the process.

Being a non Indigenous person, I often bring a more abstract design approach because I don’t want to appropriate anything I shouldn’t and I want to remain respectful of protocols. You’ve also got to design for practicality and ask yourself whether someone can get in and of a costume between scenes for instance and balance that with representing the creative vision. It’s really an evolving and collaborative process.

I work with a lot of companies but I particularly love working with Bangarra because it is much more creative than working with drama or other disciplines. Stephen also understands and respects what I do, so I have quite a bit of creative freedom.

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You have worked with Bangarra for a long time, what makes Patyegarang special to you- how would you describe it to people?

It’s special in that its set and music came together so well and when you step back and look at it, you are genuinely happy with what you’ve contributed and know it all works together. It’s very mesmerising the actual show. It’s another incredible story that is largely untold and we are here, sharing something special. It wasn’t a hard one to work on at all. Some productions are, but not this one. I don’t know why. It’s just a great story that works.

What’s next for you?

My next project is doing Giselle with the Universal Ballet of Korea, but it will be an absolutely contemporary version of an old classic. I’m going from one to the next!

You can find out all the dates and venues of the Patyegarang National Tour on the Bangarra Dance Theatre website.

Images courtesy of Bangarra Dance Theatre

Fashion & Floristry with Amy Tracey

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I know I have been sharing a lot of interviews on the blog lately, but since I started Thinking Fashion up again, I have just uncovered this whole swag of amazing people doing great things.

I am particularly excited about this one.

I believe that Amy Tracey is one designer who is going places. She is currently being mentored to show a collection at Australia’s first ever Indigenous Fashion Week in April next year, but is already making her mark as an accessory guru, even designing for Roopa Pemmaraju.

I actually first spoke about Amy, on my regular eco fashion segment on ABC radio the other week, when she had just launched her label, Flannel Billy into the online world.

She is a fashionista, florist and alumni of my old stomping ground, the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS). So here’s Amy’s story in her own words.

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Can you tell us a bit about how Flannel Billy started and what the label is all about?

As an Indigenous woman, I have always felt a strong pull to the land and living in the middle of the city of Sydney whilst studying fashion at UTS was, to be honest, a real struggle for me. I missed the trees, the flowers, the birds and the open plains that I was so used to being around my entire life.

But more than just missing the land, it had a real impact on my state of mind and I soon realised that I wasn’t a happy person in the city environment. So after graduating from University, I decided that I wanted to do something that meant I could be around nature on a more regular basis. On a whim, I started studying floristry and I fell in love. And that is how Flannel Billy was born.

It’s a fashion label which incorporates accessories constructed from native Australian flowers and aims to give Indigenous Australians living away from their country and their communities like I am, a chance to carry a small piece of the land with them for that special occasion.

We live in a nation that has regrettably been letting its Indigenous culture slip away and many young Indigenous Australians of mixed cultural background, are finding themselves lost and not quite fitting into either side of their heritage.

Through Flannel Billy, I really want to try and create an attitude that encourages young Australians to accept their heritage, both the Indigenous and non Indigenous parts of it, while urging older Indigenous people to continue to share their knowledge of Indigenous culture and mythology.

That’s how I came up with the name Flannel Billy. It comes from the English words for two native flowers which grow on Wiradjuri country- the flannel flower and the billy button.

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How have you found being part of the mentoring program for Australian Indigenous Fashion Week?

I find it hard to put into words, just how grateful I am for every moment I spend in the mentoring program. I have met some of my greatest inspirations and people I have looked up to for so many years. Some of these people have even become friends.

I have sat and discussed my dreams and plans with industry experts that I thought I would honestly never get to meet within the next five years. The wealth of knowledge that was placed at our fingertips every step of the way throughout this entire process, is unprecedented.

More precious than anything, has been sitting month after month in a room full of empowered and passionate Indigenous women, chasing and fighting for their dreams. The fact that they all happen to be chasing a similar dream to mine is an added bonus.

Some of the people in that room tell stories of endurance like I have never heard. Seeing them chase their dreams after all they have been through, makes concrete in my mind, just how resilient our people are and how proud we should be of that.

I will be forever grateful for this experience. It has been a true gift and I hope that many more young Indigenous designers are able to become part of the same process.

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Why do you think it’s important that we have an Indigenous Fashion Week in Australia?

I understand that many people will ask why Indigenous designers can’t be part of Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week and the answer is they can. I am confident that as time moves on, Australia will see more and more of its Indigenous designers reach a level where they can participate in Australian Fashion Week, but the fact is, we aren’t there yet.

Australian Indigenous Fashion Week will be a national platform through which we can showcase to our nation and the world, the wealth of creative talent and traditional craftsmanship that can be offered by Australian Indigenous fashion designers and why shouldn’t that be celebrated? I believe the fashion world is experiencing a global movement at the moment and people are ready to learn about Indigenous cultures and traditional practices and more importantly, they want to learn these things from the people who own this knowledge. Indigenous Fashion Week is our chance to do this and personally, I can’t wait!

What are your future plans for Flannel BIlly and what can we expect from you next?

Well, in the immediate future I will continue producing custom floral accessories and fashion pieces while working to produce the collection for AIFW in April 2014.

If all goes well with this collection, obviously the dream is to churn out another soon after.

Long term, I’d love to be able to get to a point where I could employ some Indigenous staff members and travel out to communities where I grew up, to teach simple floristry skills to women so that they have an additional choice for a career path, if they chose to follow me down that road.

I was very blessed growing up and have come from a very nurturing and inspiring family. Most of the help and assistance I took advantage of to get to this point is available to all Indigenous women, but living on country far away from the city can prevent access to these opportunities.

The fact that I have been able to reach the point that I have today and am staring down the barrel of what may well be a successful career in my chosen industry, makes me want to give back and help others who haven’t been as fortunate as I have.