June Newsletter 2023

Festival atmosphere: The National Indigenous Art Fair is a great place to buy authentic art and craft from Indigenous artists across Australia. You can also take in some great Indigenous performances.

CEO’s message

Hello everyone. I hope you’re all well.

It’s been a busy autumn gearing up for the National Indigenous Art Fair (NIAF), our biggest event of the year and now a significant event on Sydney’s arts calendar. As I write, we’re just over two weeks out to the art fair, which takes place 1–2 July at the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay. 

Since 2018, the NIAF has showcased the finest contemporary Indigenous art, craft and design from around Australia. The 2023 art fair features 55 stalls — our biggest yet — with a huge array of ethically produced paintings, homewares, jewellery, fashion, fabrics, woven goods and woodwork. 

Many of you will probably never visit a remote community, so the NIAF’s a rare chance for you to meet Indigenous artists from some of Australia’s most isolated places, hear their stories and buy directly from them or their art centre, knowing 100 per cent of the profit from your purchase is going to the artist and their community.

In addition to shopping, the NIAF offers families an incredible opportunity to enjoy a festival program of Indigenous singers, dancers, storytellers, bushfood cooks, panel discussions and children’s activities. It’s a fantastic program this year, and you can read more about it in this edition. 

We couldn’t put on this event without the generous support of our sponsors. A heartfelt thanks to the Port Authority of NSW, Destination NSW, University of Technology Sydney, Place Management NSW, the City of Sydney, Indigenous Business Australia, Nelson Meers Foundation, Mannifera Foundation, Herbert Smith Freehills, Macquarie Group, the federal government’s Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support Program and all the dynamic Indigenous art centres and Blak Markets stallholders who are participating at the art fair in 2023.

Now that it’s winter, you might be wondering about plants that could add a splash of colour to your garden in the colder months. We have a few suggestions for colourful natives below. IndigiGrow apprentices will be busy planting trees for National Tree Day on 31 July at Malabar Headland. Please get your orders in now if you’re doing any planting ceremonies around that time, as we tend to get busy in the lead up. 

We’re nearing the end of the financial year, so if you’re considering a gift to charity for a tax break, please consider First Hand Solutions Aboriginal Corporation, which is a charity with DGR status. We couldn’t do what we do without donor support. Thank you to everyone who gives generously and supports our art fair, Blak Markets and nurseries.

Hope to see you all at the NIAF! 

Peter Cooley


(L-R) Mui Mui Bumer Gedlam Dance Group, smoking ceremony, Andrew Wanamilil from Bula’ Bula Arts

NIAF stages vibrant festival program 

Kicking off NAIDOC Week, the National Indigenous Art Fair (NIAF) returns to the Overseas Passenger Terminal next month with an expanded festival program celebrating the arts and culture of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

“While the art fair is, of course, an occasion to purchase art and craft, it’s also a time to see some incredible performances and immerse yourself in the oldest continuous living cultures in the world,” said Sarah Martin, NIAF general manager.

On the singing front, the Barayagal Choir will appear at the art fair for the first time. This is a 21-singer intercultural collective that gathers to sing songs of culture at events. Also performing are Radical Son, a Kamilaroi and Tongan singer specialising in soul, hip hop, rap and spoken word, and Bow and Arrow, a trio who sing in Wiradjuri and Yadiki.

This year’s dancers hail from the Djiriba Waagura Aboriginal Dance Group and Mui Mui Bumer Gedlam Dance Group. Djiriba Waagura performers are known for their energetic dances and cultural experiences that inspire connectedness. The Mui Mui Burmer Gedlam Dance Group performs traditional and contemporary Torres Strait Island dances

On Saturday, 1 July, the NIAF will hold a 20-minute performance condensed from the captivating theatre performance Ngurra Nyujunggamu (When the World was Soft), which premiered at the 2023 Red Earth Arts Festival in May. 

Based on the creation stories and songs of the Yindjibarndi people of the Pilbara region, WA, Juluwarlu Art Group storytellers will share one of the famous creation legends of the region: the story of Eaglehawk, Black Kite and Crow and how Warnggarnga (Crow) became black. 

Meanwhile, those into craft have the opportunity to join a weaving workshop with Regina Pilawuk Wilson, a master weaver, celebrated artist and co-founder of the Peppimenarti community in the Northern Territory. In other weaving news, visitors to the art fair can work alongside remote community and local Indigenous weavers on a massive weaving project woven over the two days of the art fair. 

There’s also plenty of entertainment for children. Larry Brandy, a proud Wiradjuri man, storyteller and author, will lead the children’s storytelling sessions over the weekend. In his interactive sessions, children become kangaroos, emus and hunters as they learn how Indigenous people hunted and found food in earlier times. On Sunday, 2 July, Place Management NSW will be hosting a children’s workshop space on Cadmans Cottage forecourt where there will be a children’s dance workshop and cultural adornment with Jannawi Dance Clan. IndigiGrow apprentices will also be organising a native plant workshop for kids, helping them to pot up a plant they can take home. 

Entry to the NIAF is by gold coin donation to support remote artists attending the event. You can find more information and the program schedule at https://www.niaf.com.au/event-schedule.

A thriving art centre: Warlukurlangu Arts Centre manager Cecilia Alfonso with (left to right) artists Lynette Nangala Singleton, Christine Napanangka Michaels and Debbie Napaliarri Brown.

Art centre profile: 

Warlukurlangu Arts takes an inclusive approach to art

Warlukurlangu Arts was the first remote art centre to support the National Indigenous Art Fair when it began in 2018. We delve into its history and what’s happening there today.

It may not look like much from the outside, but the humble building housing the Warlukurlangu Art Centre has a different story to tell inside. In its rooms, you’ll find artists hard at work, colourful Indigenous paintings adorning the walls and several collaborative projects on the go.

Warlukurlangu Artists is one of the oldest and most successful Aboriginal-owned art centres in Central Australia. Located on the Tanami Road between the West Australian border and Uluru in Yuendumu, the art centre began in 1985 as a way to kickstart economic opportunity and a viable arts industry for the local Aboriginal community.

“Locals saw what happened in Papunya when they got an art centre, and they wanted a similar opportunity for their people to create art, tell their stories and make an income,” explained Cecilia Alfonso, who has managed the art centre for 22 years. 

Warlukurlangu has artists from Yuendumu, Nyirripi and Yuelumu, three remote communities in the Central Australian desert. ‘Warlukurlangu’ means belonging to fire in the local Warlpiri language and the art centre is named after a nearby fire dreaming site. 

In 1986, five artists from Yuendumu swapped two paintings for a government four-wheel drive vehicle so they could travel to their homelands. The artworks, called Toyota Dreaming, were some of the first acrylic dot paintings made at Yuendumu, and they wowed the broader community. The paintings were created by Paddy Jupurrurla Nelson, Paddy Japaljarri Sims, Larry Jungarrayi Spencer, Paddy Japaljarri Stewart and Tower Jakamarra Walker, who became the founding artists of the centre.

Fast forward 37 years, and today, more than 800 people from nearby communities come to paint at the art centre, producing over 11,000 canvases each year. Warlukurlangu has a national and international profile, and its artists’ work has featured in hundreds of exhibitions in Australia and overseas.

An art centre with a difference

The art centre emphasises community development and cultural maintenance and supports its artists with training, art supplies, equipment, language classes and cultural workshops.

“We’re about maximum encouragement and engagement. That engagement with the community is our greatest achievement. Our point of difference from other art centres is the number of artists we work with (825). We don’t take a boutique approach of working with a few artists,” said Cecilia.

“All of the artists we’re working with today and whose work is in demand are the children, grandchildren and even the great-grandchildren of the people I started working with 22 years ago. If we hadn’t taken that inclusive approach, it would have made it much harder for us to have had a viable business,” she added.

The Warlpiri artists use traditional stories from the local Jukurrpa (Dreamtime stories) and contemporary subjects to create paintings, prints, sculptures and ceramics. 

A key objective is to provide platforms for the artists to share their stories and cultural knowledge. Cecilia values her relationships with galleries and museums but is continuously scouring for new markets for her growing stable of artists. To that end, art fairs have become increasingly important places to sell. Cecilia was the first remote art centre manager to show support for the fledgling National Indigenous Art Fair in Sydney six years ago.

“I thought there was a gap and the NIAF would attract that important Sydney market. I gave them stock and advice that first year and have been back ever since,” she said. 

“The NIAF has become a great place to reach a broad selection of buyers and key cultural institutions that purchase Indigenous art. It’s the Indigenous art world and broader community coming together in a positive way. Our artists relish the chance to travel to Sydney and meet buyers,” she added.

This year, Warlukurlangu Arts Centre will offer a broad range of paintings from emerging artists at the art fair. The stall will also feature its popular painted metal dogs. The metal canines represent the real dogs of the Yuendumu region and the innovative social program the art centre operates to keep local dogs safe and healthy.

Twenty-two years on, Cecilia still loves her work. 

“It’s not a nine-to-five white picket fence kind of job. Communities can be challenging because there’s still plenty of economic disadvantage here. But we have a vibrant and viable business with the children and grandchildren of those original artists. The younger generations are filling those shoes and making names for themselves. I believe I’m making a positive difference by giving so many people a place to be and a purpose through their art,” she said. 

Warlukurlangu Art Centre staff will be at the National Indigenous Art Fair along with one of their artists, Karen Barnes.

In the pink: IndigiGrow apprentice Luke Cook likes fuchsia heath.

Give to a good cause

You know the end of the financial year (EOFY) is fast approaching when you start getting bombarded by the EOFY sales ads on TV. But the end of June isn’t just about getting a good deal on white goods. 

For charities, EOFY is important because many people give to their favourite causes in June to get a tax break. This helps boost the resources at charities so they can do more good work. That’s why First Hand Solutions Aboriginal Corporation is appealing to readers for donations.

“People are often surprised to learn that we’re a charity and social enterprise, not a regular business. Donations are really important to help support our work,” said Peter Cooley, CEO.

“Events like the National Indigenous Art Fair and Blak Markets provide opportunities for Indigenous artists from around the country to sell their work. But it costs a lot of money to stage these events, and there’s only so many grants or sponsors to help,” he explained.

As well, IndigiGrow, the corporation’s not-for-profit native plant nursery, is staffed by seven young Aboriginal apprentices learning traditional plant knowledge and horticulture skills. Donations help keep them in meaningful and culturally appropriate employment.

“Many young people have been inspired by the apprentices and have asked us if they could have a job with us too. But without more resources we can’t hire them,” said Peter.

Could you help? Head here to give today. First Hand Solutions has deductible gift recipient (DGR) status, so all donations of $2 or more are tax deductible. 

Native ginger (Alpinia caerulea)

Plant profile: native ginger 

Native ginger (Alpinia caerulea), also called blue ginger, is a bushfood plant related to ginger and turmeric. An understorey plant found in coastal rainforests from Sydney to Cape York, it has glossy green leaves and white flowers which bloom in spring and summer. Blue-coloured berries appear after the flowers finish blooming. 

IndigiGrow stocks Alpinia caerulea and the Alpinia caerulea red back species (found in Queensland’s Atherton Tableland). Native ginger grows well in sun or shade but requires watering during dry periods. It likes rich, moist, moderately drained soil and tolerates most soil types. But it doesn’t do well in frosty conditions. 

Australian Indigenous people traditionally ate the roots, shoots and berries and used the berries to moisten the mouth during walkabouts. They also used the leaves as plates. The root tips, shoots and berries are all edible (but not the seeds). You can use the leaves and shoots in curries, soups and other savoury dishes instead of regular ginger. For something different, use the cut flowers and foliage to make a pretty floral display.

Native ginger (Alpinia caerulea)

Perk up your winter garden with colourful natives

Want to add a dash of colour to your garden in winter? IndigiGrow stocks a heap of natives that can brighten your backyard during the colder months. 

“You’ll also be doing the birds, bees and butterflies a favour by providing them with a food source in winter,” said Jay Cook, manager at IndigiGrow’s Matraville nursery. Below are some of Jay’s favourite picks to help you avoid a bleak mid-winter garden.

Fuchsia heath (Epacris longiflora), also called cigarette flower, is a pretty shrub that blooms with masses of narrow, tubular flowers from spring to winter. It comes in different colours like pinky red tipped with white to all-white varieties. Fuchsia heath grows well in sandy, well-drained soils in dappled shade. It’s a good one for attracting nectar-eating birds and is ideal for containers or as a feature plant in protected coastal gardens. Water regularly. 

Hardenbergia, also known as purple coral pea, is a native climbing and trailing plant perfect for concealing ugly fences or walls. The ‘happy wanderer’ variety (Hardenbergia violacea) blooms with lovely purple flowers from late winter to early spring. This native does best in sunny spots but can be grown in part shade. Hardenbergia violacea likes moist, well-drained soil and can tolerate frost. There are also pink and white hardenbergia varieties available.

Grevilleas are show-stopper shrubs, and many varieties bloom during the colder months. They’re also nectar-rich, making them a favourite with birds. Consider ‘red lantern,’ ‘firecracker,’ ‘deua gold’ and ‘loopy loo’ which offer dramatic splashes of red, yellow, orange and pink blooms in winter. Grevilleas are generally hardy, frost and heat-tolerant. Plant them in sunny spots for best results. 

Banksias are native evergreen shrubs and small trees that can flower for several months. Stunning varieties include hairpin banksia (Banksia spinulosa) and lantern banksia (Banksia ericifolia). These banksias have tall orange flowers that remind people of birthday candles or corn cobs. Banksias can grow up to 1.5 metres and flourish in full sun to part shade.

Banksia Ericifolia

Found in heath and woodland on the coast and ranges of eastern Australia, sweet wattle (Acacia suaveolens) flowers from April to September. This fragrant plant features soft yellow or white globular flower heads and stiff blue-green phyllodes. Sweet wattle can grow to about 1.5 metres, favours good-draining soils, is drought-tolerant and thrives in full sun. 

Crowea saligna is a small shrub with starry pink flowers. This wax flower variety prefers well-drained and moist soils but will tolerate dry spells once established. It thrives best in part shade but can cope in sunlight if you water it well in dry periods. You can grow Crowea saligna in containers, courtyards, cottage or coastal gardens.

Want more ideas? Talk to the staff at the IndigiGrow Matraville or La Perouse nurseries or visit the website: www.indigigrow.com.au  

Light up your garden with the candle-like blooms of lantern banksia.

Dates for your diary

1–2 July: National Indigenous Art Fair, Gadigal Country (Overseas Passenger Terminal), The Rocks, 10.00am–5.00pm

6 July: NAIDOC Week Market, Cammeraygal Country, The Atrium, SBS TV Sydney, 14 Herbert Street, Artarmon, 11.00am–2.00pm

6 August: Blak Markets, Bidjigal Country (Bare Island Fort, La Perouse), 10.00am–3.00pm

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), 10.00am–4.00pm

3 December: Blak Markets, Bidjigal Country (Bare Island Fort, La Perouse), 10.00am–3.00pm

16–17 December: Blak Markets, Gadigal Country (Tallawoladah Lawn, The Rocks), 10.00am–4.00pm