July 2023 Newsletter

Lex Namponan, from the Wik & Kugu Arts Centre in Aurukun, QLD
and June Djiagween from Juluwarlu Art Group in WA were two of the artists at the 2023 NIAF

CEO’s message

Hello everyone, and I hope you’re all well. 

I’m thrilled to report that the 2023 National Indigenous Art Fair (NIAF) was a roaring success. The beautiful artwork and festival program of song, dance, weaving circles and children’s workshops attracted 22,000 people to the Overseas Passenger Terminal on Sydney Harbour on 1–2 July to kick off NAIDOC Week around Australia. 

It takes a lot of effort and people to put on an event of this magnitude, and we’re so grateful to everyone who supported the NIAF. To all the remote art centres, artists, Blak Markets stallholders, performers, staff and volunteers, we warmly thank you all for your support.

Huge thanks must also go to our many partners for their generous assistance: the Port Authority of NSW, Destination NSW, ABC Radio, University of Technology Sydney, Place Management NSW, the City of Sydney, Nelson Meers Foundation, Mannifera Foundation, Cages Foundation, Herbert Smith Freehills, Macquarie Group, Gilbert + Tobin, the federal government’s Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support Program and Indigenous Business Australia.  

We also had a visit to the art fair (and IndigiGrow later in the month) from the Hon. David Harris, MP, Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Treaty. We’re thankful for a recent grant from the department to buy a new delivery van for IndigiGrow and to build a cultural education and learning space in the grounds of La Perouse Public School. 

Finally, a thank you to everyone who visited the art fair, purchased something and took the time to listen, learn or weave. We hope you had fun and that you’ll be back next year. 

Jay Cook, IndigiGrow Matraville manager, with Aunty Irene Cooley.

While we’ve been crazy busy with the art fair, work did not stop at IndigiGrow and our native plant nurseries. In early July, IndigiGrow, in partnership with the La Perouse Local Aboriginal Land Council and Gamay Rangers, organised a special planting of the five corners plant with the local Aboriginal Elders of La Perouse. Five corners is an endangered ancient bushfood, and the Elders and young people put 12 plants into the ground around Yarra Bay House. It was wonderful to see the different generations working together for a common cause and, for the first time ever, replanting this local bushfood back into the community.

 Peter Cooley

Chief Executive Officer

Bare Island Blak Markets

Blak Markets return to Bare Island this month

Sydney’s Blak Markets are returning to their spiritual home on Bidjigal land (Bare Island, La Perouse), at the historic fort overlooking Botany Bay on Sunday, 6 August. The one-day festival will run from 10.00am to 3.00pm.

The Blak Markets are a lively hub where Indigenous artists and small business owners gather to sell one-of-a-kind art, craft and bush foods. One hundred per cent of sales go back to the stallholders to support these creative small businesses.

The markets offer many things to artists and visitors. They provide employment, reconnect artists to culture and transfer artistic knowledge from Elders to the next generation. For art and craft lovers, it’s a chance to shop locally and buy authentic products.

The August Blak Markets include a Welcome to Country by Aunty Barb Simms and a smoking ceremony. Mayor Dylan Parker will speak on behalf of Randwick City Council, official sponsor of the markets.

Dinawan’s Connection (Aboriginal dancers from Cowra) will perform at 11.30am and 1.30pm and Dubbo’s Issac Compton (Tik Tok sensation and winner of The Summit, Channel 9’s reality TV show) will sing at noon and 2.00pm. An interactive weaving workshop runs all day. Admission to the markets is $2.50 for adults and free for children under five.

The Jannawi Dance Clan delighted families at the NIAF this year.

Celebrating art and culture: 2023 NIAF attracts big crowds 

They came, they experienced, and they bought. Thousands of art lovers flocked to the Overseas Passenger Terminal for the fourth annual National Indigenous Art Fair.

“It was our biggest event yet with more than 22,000 attending, which was significantly higher than the 10,000 visitors in 2022, with all proceeds going back to the artists and their communities to build intergenerational wealth and show younger generations that there’s a future in culture,” said Sarah Martin, NIAF general manager.

There were 60 stalls spread across two floors of the OPT, featuring art and craft from across Australia. 

Woollahra Council and First Hand Solutions also partnered again for the second annual Heart in Art exhibition at Woollahra Gallery to coincide with the NIAF. This satellite event, held at the historic Redleaf Gallery, showcased the work of 42 artists from 17 art centres who attended the NIAF.   

Enjoy a performance at Bangarra Dance Theatre

Bangarra Dance Theatre’s major new work is a ceremonial affirmation of history and heritage. Yuldea explores the moment traditional life collided with the industrial ambition of a growing nation. 

Now – 14 October 2023. Canberra, Adelaide, Queensland, Melbourne and Bendigo. Bookings: https://bit.ly/Yuldea

IndigiGrow apprentice Luke Cook with five corners, one of his favourite plants.

IndigiGrow staff profile: Luke Cook

Since he was a child, Luke Cook wanted to work outdoors. 

So it was no surprise the former Corpus Christi College student leapt at the chance to join IndigiGrow’s apprenticeship program to learn about horticulture and native plants.

“I wanted to quit school when I turned 16. My mum said I better get a job. She knew Peter Cooley and asked him if I could work at IndigiGrow as an apprentice because she knew I wanted an outdoor job. I met Pete, and everything clicked into place.”

Luke, a Bidjigal youth who grew up in La Perouse, started working casually at IndigiGrow during the school holidays while he completed year 10. In January, he became a full-time apprentice. 

At first, he was happy enough potting up and doing routine nursery work. But as he heard Peter present the IndigiGrow story to visitors, he became interested in how IndigiGrow’s work to preserve native plants was underpinned by Indigenous culture, connection and caring for Country. 

“I enjoy learning how IndigiGrow uses native plants and passes down traditional knowledge and stories from Elders to young apprentices like me. IndigiGrow is much more than just a nursery. It’s a way of life. I’m discovering culture and who I am. I’m also learning about the environment and how to give back to people through work,” he said.

In recent months, Luke has been accompanying Peter to speaking engagements to learn how to present the IndigiGrow story to others. He’s also studying horticulture at TAFE to gain an academic qualification to complement his practical experience. 

Gavin Ardler from IndigiGrow

Wheely cool art: IndigiGrow’s Gav Adler helps artist Steve Carr with the native plants for Steve’s latest In Bloom sculpture.

IndigiGrow’s handiwork blooming in many places

IndigiGrow staff have been here, there, and everywhere lately, collaborating on several projects and events this winter. 

In July, they helped New Zealand artist Steve Carr with his first Australian sculpture for his In Bloom series. This series invites contemplation of the often tense relationship between nature and industry “progress.”

IndigiGrow staff and Steve selected several critically endangered Eastern Suburbs Banksia Scrub (ESBS) species like flannel flowers, large-leaf bush pea, plume grass, grevilleas and karkalla to enhance the sculpture, which features 11 bronze-cast car tyres arranged like a planter. It’s now on display at the Museum of Contemporary Art. 

“Only three per cent of ESBS (Sydney’s original coastal plant community) remains on our coast, and this sculpture will help educate people about its importance and allow us to continue to build ESBS corridors for wildlife and pollinators,” said CEO Peter Cooley. 

In early July, Mirvac, one of Australia’s largest property owners, invited IndigiGrow’s apprentices to hand out packets of lemon myrtle and rosella seeds to their employees at their various properties around Sydney. This activity was part of Mirvac’s NAIDOC Week celebrations.

IndigiGrow staff also supplied hundreds of native trees to Parramatta Council for National Tree Planting Day and are busy planting ESBS trees on the Malabar headland to create more wildlife corridors and boost the environment and biodiversity.

Plant profile: chocolate lily

Chocolate lily (Arthropodium strictum) is a small, delicate lily that smells remarkably like chocolate. You’ll find these lovely mauve flowers in grassy areas and woodlands across most of Australia.

Chocolate lily is also a bushfood. Indigenous people have long used the edible tubers that grow below the surface as a food source. The raw tubers are sweet and best eaten young as they become bitter with age. They’re delicious lightly roasted with salt or butter. The edible chocolate-scented flowers can be added to salads and to decorate cakes.

You can grow this native edible in full sun or part shade in your garden or in a deep pot that will allow room for the tubers to grow. Use rich soil and a bit of native plant fertiliser to stimulate and support growth. As an ornamental plant, chocolate lily works well for mass plantings in gardens. They also provide colour pops in rockeries and gaps.

Dates for your diary

6 August: Blak Markets, Bidjigal Country (Bare Island Fort, La Perouse),

2–3 September: Blak Markets, Gadigal Country (Tallawoladah Lawn, The Rocks),
10.00am –4.00pm

11–12 November: Blak Markets, Gadigal Country (Tallawoladah Lawn, The Rocks),

3 December: Blak Markets, Bidjigal Country (Bare Island Fort, La Perouse),
10.00am–3.00pm16–17 December: Blak Markets, Gadigal Country (Tallawoladah Lawn, The Rocks),