Ciao spoke with three creatives about how the cultures and places important to them have come to inspire their ground-breaking work.
Fashion designer and stylist
My grandmother is the one who inspired me to become a fashion designer. Ever since I was a little girl she would make clothes for me in all soft materials. In high school I knew what I wanted to be, and my mother also wanted to be a supportive figure in my life. My grandmother and mother are my biggest influences.
My parents are from the Christmas and Cocos Islands, not too far from Western Australia, and I was born and grew up in Port Hedland. We moved to Sydney in ‘95. We’re Islanders.
My style and my signature pieces are inspired by the bohemian eras of the 1970s and 1980s, but every collection that I do I am always inspired by my heritage and culture. Port Hedland was isolated, I was growing up in the bush, so I love using the colours of the outback. My most recent collection was inspired by the Cocos Islands and tropical Australian summers. I used a lot of blues in flowy skirts and kaftans.
I think my love of the bohemian style has grown because of the way I was brought up. My family came from the Cocos Islands to the mainland like nomads. They didn’t know anyone or have anything.
I still remember my grandmother’s house was very rugged, with blankets, pillows and cushions on the floor. It’s also because as a designer I am very open-minded and spiritual which are values that were part of the 1970s. People recognise the bohemian influence and can identify that someone is wearing Amalina Aman. I want to have some piece of myself in every collection so that women feel special when they wear it.
I think modest fashion is definitely growing bigger, mostly because a lot of the mainstream fashion houses have come to accept it. One of my friends, an Indonesian fashion designer, was the first to show a hijab at New York’s Fashion Week, in what must be one of the biggest achievements for modest fashion.
I am one of the first Muslim Australian designers to be represented internationally and I also see a lot of big companies starting to collaborate with modest designers. A lot of ladies are open about wanting to be stylish in what they wear and it’s great to see a growing movement.
You can see Amalina’s collections at: amalinaaman.bigcartel.com
Model and designer
I grew up on Hammond Island in the Torres Strait, my parents are from the central and western parts of the Torres Strait Islands. I grew up and went to school there then moved to Cairns. That’s where I learnt more about the fashion industry and how a few designers had been pushing for more Indigenous fashion, especially from the Torres Strait Islands, with the raw materials they use.
A couple of the materials I had never seen before. Then I looked into it and learned about how Torres Strait Islanders used it back in the day – I still want to keep learning.
I moved to Sydney three years ago. Australia is obviously very multicultural and moving from the Torres Strait Islands to Sydney was eye-opening, you see everyone from everywhere. Everyone expresses themselves a lot in their clothes and wears fashion differently – Sydney is very out there. I am working in a fashion head office right now, and I‘m looking into becoming a buyer. As long as I am working in fashion, I will be happy – it’s such a great industry.
I have been modelling on and off for a few years. My sister Tahlia got into it first. My Aunty Nancy in Cairns introduced her to modelling. She got my sister to go to a meeting with an agency manager and a photo shoot. I was in the car driving to work and my sister called and said, “They like twins, why don’t you come in?” I thought, “Ok, I’ll come along.” It was really interesting. I had never done anything like that before, it makes you respect the creativity of designers and their different backgrounds.
What my sister and I bring to shoots is a different cultural experience, whether we are wearing clothing inspired by our own Indigenous Torres Strait culture or somewhere else. There’s a lot more to discover in regards to both Aboriginal and Torres Strait fashion.
People are working out how to put artwork onto clothing and different ways to interpret history. With Torres Strait art, you can put lino print artwork onto clothing or use tortoise shell necklaces or anything related to the sea. I feel like I am wearing history. People can learn about history that way rather than through books.
I think a lot of people will want to see more of Torres Strait Islander artwork, even if it’s modernised into fashion. I think a lot of collaborations are to come in the future between different cultures in Australia.
Aisha and Tahlia Bowie have their own design range, Bowie Empire, which incorporates Torres Strait Islander emblems with high-end street wear. See www.bowieempire.com.au
Warren H Williams
Singer, musician and songwriter
I’m from Central Australia, a Western Islander. I was born in a place called Hermannsburg, or Ntaria in the local language. Where I was born there are a lot of choirs and I grew up in music, my mum was in the choir, dad was in the choir, so when I was young my dad started a band for himself and since then I just tagged along with him and learned to play.
When I was younger I didn’t just play one thing, I played anything that came along. You know, rock, reggae. But one night in college, I heard a song, a country song and thought, ‘I want to do that.’ I’ve been doing it ever since.
When it came to country music, it was kind of luck really, just being in the right place. Back in the 1990s I did a song called ‘Waiting on the Rocks’ with John Williamson and it just took off from there. The country music industry has hardly any Aboriginal people in it, aside from Troy Cassar Daley at the top of the list, so it’s good to be involved.
I’ve always worked in music and after awhile you want to try something different. That’s when they asked me to write an episode for an Aboriginal television series called Our Place. The series has no professional actors, just people here from the community, and I wrote and directed two episodes, which was fantastic.
You see things from a different angle when you are an Aboriginal person. If something is written by a white fella and he gives you the script, you then read it as a black person and think ‘Oh, I’ll do this’. A lot of things that a white person would have written, you wouldn’t have agreed with, but you try to make it easier for yourself.
Recently Dani Young and I were able to record an album in Nashville. I would really love to be able to go back and do another. Aside from that, my ultimate dream is to write an opera in my Aboriginal language. I have little bits and pieces from writing a musical in my language, so hopefully someone who understands opera will be able to turn the musical into an opera.
I like to step out of the box, in Australia everyone seems to be in their box doing the same thing over and over but I get bored. I want to do something that will freak people out. When I was growing up a lot of young kids did rock and all that stuff, and I did country. It’s worked for me, going my own way, I’m nominated for a Gold Guitar this year.
Warren is performing with Dani Young at the upcoming Yabun Festival, a celebration of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. See our What’s On section for further information.
As told to Phoebe Moloney and Maani Truu