A group of women in part of the remotest corner of northwestern Northern Territory are dedicating their amazing talents and skills to a not-for-profit organisation that supports the development and growth of their indigenous community.
The Women of Wadeye, approximately 400 kilometres southwest of Darwin, are integral to the Palngun Wurnangat Aboriginal Corporation (PWAC) through applying their artistic skills and sentiments to produce hand printed goods for sale.
Their township, which is mostly inaccessible by road for half of the year, was first established as a Catholic mission in the 1930s to cater for the 22 clan groups throughout the 330,000 hectare Thamarrurr region.
The women are following a tradition of community involvement that began in the late1940s when the older women learnt to sew clothing and make skirts out of flour and sugar sacks under the supervision of the nuns.
Today, their signature imprint lies in the colourful hand-printed fabrics they produce at the PWAC Arts Centre with each bearing recognition of local fauna and flora, motifs, and they also make dilly bags, cushion covers, printed shopping bags, gift cards and aprons.
PWAC General Manager Denise Messiter is excited about the group’s imminent expansion into a clothing range.
“We designed our own fashion label, the name is yet to be confirmed, but is likely to be a play on the Aboriginal word for echidna, which is also the corporation’s logo,” Denise said.
“The range was launched at this year’s Darwin Arts Festival and we propose to retail men’s and women’s clothing, primarily board shorts and shirts. Through the efforts and recognition of well-known artist Kathy Laundenbach, our Arts Centre Coordinator, we have also been invited to the Adelaide Arts Festival in October.”
PWAC markets its goods through its website (www.palngunwurnangat.com) using keyword links, its Facebook page (www.facebook.com/palngunwurnangat), Instagram (instagram.com/palngunwurnangat) and by word of mouth through its network of contacts.
PWAC is directed by a board of eight Aboriginal woman and has between 23 and 40 people on staff. It has three women in the Arts Centre, three in the T-House retail shop and four in the Mt Partha takeaway section.
The corporation has its own commercial bakery staffed by men because of the heavy handling work, plus two non-Aboriginal men working in stores and maintenance. It also has a butchery and T-House café.
The corporation also conducts the Kakadu plum harvesting business and is eyeing off the US market after joining forces with an indigenous company that has a focus on wild harvest and bush foods marketing.
“It is fantastic that the women’s centre and the corporation in its various forms has been running for 80 years,” Denise said.
“It is really important that there is continuity around women’s contribution and the economic and social wellbeing of people in this region.
“The corporation is committed to the motto – ‘Kardu Mardinpuy kardu pule Ngalla paninu i da mayirtnu pani da kainh’ – which means ‘Growing young women into leaders so they can run the organisation and the community’.”
PWAC is also committed to the government-funded program, Stronger Communities for Children.
“This has a focus on strengthening indigenous communities with capacity and capability-building, particularly for children and their families,” Denise said.
“We have been able to develop a Men’s Shed in Wadeye and support youth leadership activities at the Thathangathay Wadeye Youth Centre. We are supporting their leadership program and their whole out of school holiday program and also looking at women’s culture, revitalisation of ceremony and early childhood education. We are hoping to develop an Aboriginal curriculum to be based on a cultural framework directly related to this community.”
There are 900 school-aged children in the area among the fluctuating seasonal population of between 1500 to 3000 people. Denise acknowledged the professional support of Nexia’s Darwin office in taking control of all financial matters from budget forecasts through to end of year financials and direct board reporting.
“The organisation has quite a lot of exponential growth and Nexia Darwin has been very helpful in identifying where we need to control cash flows to achieve our final targets,” she said.