Celebrating First Nations arts and culture across Australia

Over the past few months, we’ve been travelling with you across the country, presenting just some of the Art Centres, artists, creatives and thought leaders at the forefront of First Nations arts and culture.  Many of these talents participate in a range of events and exhibitions that happen in Top End each year come August. They’re run by a collective of organisations working to elevate and celebrate First Nations art and culture in Australia.  

The Collective of events includes the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair (DAAF), National Indigenous Fashion Awards (NIFA), Country to Couture, Garma Festival, Telstra National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Awards (Telstra NATSIAAs), National Indigenous Music Awards (NIMAs), and the Salon des Refusés’ events.

(PS. we’ve also got the scoop on how to get involved in this year’s events!)

Words by | Camilla Wagstaff

Cover Image | MAARA Collective x Bula’bula Aboriginal Arts Corporation, 2019 , Country to Couture, Photo by Dylan Buckee.

Exploring the Southeast

The alpine slopes, coastal beaches and lush forests of Southeast Australia might not be what first comes to mind when thinking about Australian First Nations art. Rest assured, there are many thriving Aboriginal communities and artists working outside the more well-known desert, Top End and northern island regions.  The Southeast is home to handful of dynamic Art Centres, some of which you’ll be able to catch at DAAF 2022.

Artists working out of these spaces are skilled in a range of techniques including painting, weaving, ceramics, textiles and fashion. Palettes often reflect the more cinematically muted hues – lush greens and browns, deep blues and deep ochres – of the cooler climates common here.  Many of our rising First Nations fashion designers and music stars also call this region home. 

Banner image | MAARA Collective by Julie Shaw x Bula’bula Aboriginal Arts Corporation, 2019, Country to Couture, Photo by Dylan Buckee.

Creative: Julie Shaw 

Yuwaalaraay creative Julie Shaw is the brains behind Maara Collective, a luxurious resort wear label informed by a deep connection to kinship, community and collaboration. Julie’s brand honours the many hands involved in the creative process, with maara translating to hands in Yuwaalaraay and Gamilaraay language. After her hit runway show at the 2019 Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair Foundation’s Country to Couture, Julie took out the Fashion Design Award and the Community Collaboration Award, alongside Bula’bula Arts, at the inaugural NIFA in 2020. More awards, accolades, mentorship programs and collaborations have followed in the few short years since, making Julie an Australian designer on a meteoric rise.  

Image top right: Designer Julie Shaw. Courtesy: Julie Shaw. Left top image: Yolŋu model Magnolia Maymuru wearing MAARA Collective, LIKARA collection by MAARA Collective and Alison Lionel. Indigenous Fashion Projects Runway at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2022. Right top image: Joshua Morris wearing MAARA Collective, LIKARA collection by MAARA Collective and Alison Lionel. Indigenous Fashion Projects Runway at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week 2022. Photos by David Jones, Chris Quyen.

Art Centre: Baluk Arts

Baluk is a Boonwurrung word translating to group of people. Based in Mornington, Victoria, Baluk artists hail from across the country. Baluk Arts encourages strong artistic practices reflecting themes of identity in a contemporary context, helping support cultural and creative well-being. Its mission extends to its support for community development, youth leadership, and participation and interaction through innovative arts practice. 

Image above: Baluk Artists Bev Meldrum, Sam Trist and Ash Pugh on Shoreham Beach, Victoria. Photograph courtesy of Baluk Arts. Below | Desert Emu, Ashleigh Pugh, Pencil on found hardwood. 2020, 33.5cm x 10.5cm. Photograph courtesy of Baluk Arts

Creative: The Kid LAROI

Kamilaroi rapper, singer and songwriter Charlton Kenneth Jeffrey Howard (aka The Kid LAROI) is another shining star from the country’s south. Born and raised in Waterloo, Sydney, Laroi currently calls Los Angeles home. First rising to fame as a 2018 finalist in Triple J’s Unearthed High competition, Laroi was signed to Grade A Productions in 2019. After his hit song featuring Justin Bieber, Stay, spent 10 weeks at the top of the pop charts, Laroi was named artist of the year at the 2021 NIMAs, at just 18 years old. 

The 2022 NIMA reclaims its rightful place on Larrakia Country at the Darwin Amphitheatre on Saturday 6 August. With First Nations sensations Thelma Plum, King Stingray and many more set to take the stage, the night is set to truly celebrate what’s been a huge year for First Nations music. 

Tickets are on sale via Darwin Festival here.

Image above: musician The Kid LAROI. Courtesy: NIMA.

Creative: Cassie Leatham


Cassie Leatham’s thriving creative practice spans 35 years. An artist, jewellery maker, fashion designer, master weaver, traditional dancer, bushtukka woman and educator, Cassie celebrates the works and ceremonies of her ancestors, attaching her own personal knowledge and connection.

Cassie is from the Taungurung/Dja Dja Wurrung people from the Kulin Nation, known for her work as Wild Blak Arts, and her label Yanggurdi. Cassie also debuted a range of accessories at the IFP Runway at Afterpay Australian Fashion Week this year, which was met with wide acclaim, and more recently has been nominated for the 2022 Traditional Adornment NIFA.

As an artist, Cassie’s work has been exhibited here and abroad and acquired by the National Gallery of Victoria, Koorie Heritage Trust Collection, Melbourne Magistrates Court of Victoria.

Join the National Indigenous Fashion Awards in Darwin on the 3 August, with tickets on sale via Darwin Festival, or tune in for the Broadcast on the 10 August, 2022 at 7.30pm AEST on NITV.

Image above: Cassie Leatham, Yanggurdi – Wild Blak Arts, 2020, AFR Magazine, Photo by Arsineh Houspian. Below | Work by Cassie Leatham, Yanggurdi, Wild Blak Arts, Photo credit The Eventurers Ian and Velta Fellowes.

Art Centre: Walantanalinany Palingina 


WAPA is a Tasmanian Aboriginal community multi arts initiative, motivated by conversations and dreams that have existed in our community for many many years. WAPA is the short name version of Walantanalinany Palingina.

‘We’re Here! A Tasmanian Aboriginal Multi-Arts Program’ was birthed, under the banner of Walantanalinany Palingina (WAPA). The program’s focus is on development and capacity building projects that nurture us toward longer term visions of a ‘Place: a Tasmanian Aboriginal Multi-Arts Organisation’.

Artist Lillian Wheatley, whose work features here, is a proud Trawawoolay (Tasmanian Aboriginal) salt water woman from lutruwita (Tasmania) specifically a small group of islands to the North East of Tasmania: the Furneuax Islands.

Lillian is strongly influenced by the pristine environment in which she grew up in utilising the natural materials and resources. This is strongly embedded in her self taught multi media practice.

Lillian’s creations have been exhibited in art galleries throughout Victoria, at the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, MONA and most recently during Melbourne fashion week.

Walantanalinany Palingina will be one of 77+ Art Centres making their way to DAAF this year!

Image above: King Maireeners by Aunty Lillian Wheatley. Photo by Bonnie Starick courtesy of Walantanalinany Palingina. Below | Aunty Lillian Wheatley, Lutruwita. Photo courtesy of Lillian Wheatley and Walantanalinany Palingina.

More to Come…

Thanks for joining the Exploring Art & Culture series! Over the next few months, we’re travelling with you across Country to introduce you to just some of the Art Centres, artists, creatives and thought leaders involved in The Collective events this year. We look forward to seeing you in the Top End this July-August! Head over to events page to see what’s on. 

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