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Standing Committee on Indigenous Affairs
Growing presence of inauthentic Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander 'style' art and craft products and merchandise for sale across Australia

CLARK, Ms Jane, Media, Art Media Team Mentor, Waltja Tjutangku Palyapayi Corporation


ACTING CHAIR: Welcome. Do you have any comments to make on the capacity in which you appear?

Ms Clark : I'm also a former Alice Springs town councillor.

ACTING CHAIR: These proceedings are public and are being recorded by Hansard. If you wish to give evidence heard in private, please let us know and we'll consider your request. As you would've heard earlier, we don't require you to swear under oath. These are formal proceedings of the parliament and giving false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament, but you're also protected by parliamentary privilege—I'm just making that clear. If you object to answering a question, just let us know why and we'll have a think about whether we're going to let you. Please now make an opening statement, if you wish.

Ms Clark : Thank you. I think I should explain a bit about what Waltja is and what we actually do. We call it Waltja for short, which means family in Luritja. The full name, Waltja Tjutangku Palyapayi, means doing good work with families. Our organisation art is part of our fundraising, so I'll just tell you a bit about the organisation. What sets Waltja apart is our ability to engage and network with community members through our cultural connections and responsive programs gaining the respect we enjoy in our region. Waltja is well recognised as a significant contributor and stakeholder, and this year we have built on this reputation to extend our footprint.

Over the past 12 months, Waltja has travelled to 20 of the communities in our area and worked alongside family and community members to provide capacity building, training, advocacy, support and services to improve the daily life outcomes for all age groups. Some of these were around school and education, working to address the effects of social media and substance misuse; supporting people with disabilities and their carers with respite, beds, blankets and mobility aids; providing urgent emergency relief; working with young people and their extended families to reconnect, and for everyone to feel valued, respected and hopeful for the future. Waltja works to link everything together by building on the strength of kinship and culture, and providing opportunities to share skills, experiences and knowledge.

Waltja partnered with Life Without Barriers to host an aged and disability festival in Central Australia. We were proud to manage this event that included nearly 250 people. Together we raised nearly $90,000. Waltja also runs preconference and cultural workshops at our new property, Kungka Kutjarra, which brought us many new friends and generated lots of ideas for the future. Waltja successfully submitted for a stimulus package from the NT government. This was used to improve the facilities and access to the camping grounds. We've purchased land just outside of Alice Springs, which we use for conferences. One of the things that we used it for recently was funded by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. It was a workshop about domestic violence and ways that we can find solutions to that. We had women come from 20 communities around the Northern Territory. It was also supported by Tangentyere, the women's council and also the women's shelter. We were able to have women come and camp for three days. We had some very meaningful workshops around domestic violence and what you can do about it and also general health matters, such as smoking and that sort of thing. One of the things that made it valuable was that women who live remotely but who are in Alice Springs because of renal dialysis, so they can't go back to their communities, were able to participate during the day or come and camp with the other women and catch up with people from remote areas that they hadn't seen. Waltja doesn't work with people who live in town in Alice Springs. We only work with women who live remotely.

This year is our board's 20th year. Our board started 20 years ago with an aim of providing family-oriented support. We look at things like helping the people who have fallen through the cracks—for instance, kids who are not engaged with school but who are also not engaged with any other programs. One of the projects we're doing now is teaching media skills—how to take videos and use them and then do postproduction on the videos.

We provide a range of services, so you might wonder why we are here for an art thing. We have a program that is an emergency relief fund. If someone gets stuck in town and doesn't have money to get back or perhaps they had to stay longer because they were here for medical treatment and they ran out of money for food or fuel or clothing, they can come to Waltja and receive assistance in the form of food vouchers or petrol vouchers or, sometimes, cash. But the directors wanted to have a very firm policy that you don't get something for nothing, so we came up with these diary covers that we create. Someone will come in and say: 'We need money. Can we paint a diary cover and get cash straightaway?' We have a set amount of money that goes to you whether you're a famous artist or you've never painted before in your life. We don't dictate what they can paint. Most art centres will say, 'I want this because that sells.' It's totally up to them what they paint. Then they get their money for emergency relief. So it's never just cash for nothing; it's always cash for a purpose. That money then goes back in and refeeds our emergency relief fund. Over the past 12 to 18 months, we've ended up with a large number of diary covers. People can come into our offices and purchase from us. We have an art room that they can purchase from. But, as with the other organisations, we're in the light industrial area, which means that not much foot traffic comes through, so we've got into online sales, and that is helping us quite a lot.

In terms of the artwork that we sell, we've got about 1,400 products on our database at the moment. On about half of them, the artist is named. With the other half, it might be that two or three people from the same family have come together and created a diary cover, so it's not just one person who has created it. Another reason might be that someone is a bit embarrassed that they've come to us for assistance, so they don't want their name on the particular artwork, and we respect that. We can't find out ourselves who did it. We just totally respect their desire for anonymity. Also, maybe someone didn't do a very good job, so another person will come and say, 'Instead of doing a new cover, can you fix this one?' and someone will fix it and then it's a joint work. A lot of our stuff is just 'Artist unknown' and we onsell it.

We've launched into new media. Last year we really lifted our presence, particularly on Twitter where we ran a crowdfunding campaign. The need for blankets in the middle of winter is huge. A lot of the people we help are, for instance, very old. Maybe they have a disjointed family and they just don't have the support. People often get pneumonia and die during winter, unfortunately, in Central Australia. We wanted to get 3,000 blankets—really good-quality ones that you could have next to a fire and the sparks wouldn't ignite them. We ran a crowdfunding campaign and we were able to raise $25,000. We put in an additional $50,000 and we bought the blankets and distributed them for free. We also give them to the women's shelter and places like that. We run programs like that, and this year we're doing another one: we're making up baby bags for new mums. We use that as an opportunity to counsel the mums. We give the mums the bag of useful stuff. A lot of it is donated by people who follow us on social media. We have bags coming in every day from people making donations and we distribute them through the community.

We're in the arts field but not as strongly as the arts centre. Fake art really does affect us quite strongly. These artworks are 100 per cent Indigenous art. They're not fakes; they're the real thing. All of them are under $100, so they're quite cheap. When cheap fakes are being sold in shops around the place, it starts to dilute the Aboriginal arts field and reduces the opportunity for people to self-determine, which is what this is. They say, 'I get help and later on I'll go back and help Waltja.' Often people will say, 'I'll do some paintings for Waltja to sell.' We had an online art sale recently. Six artists donated paintings to us and they all sold within a day when we put them up online. They wanted to give back to Waltja to help people in need, because they've been helped in the past. If you dilute the Indigenous art market, people aren't going to know that they're buying the real thing.

We had an interesting experience with a German artist online recently. I've tried to find the stuff that he sent us. It was a few months ago, but I'll see if I can find it for you. He was interacting with us through Twitter and was really excited about the art and said, 'This is magnificent. I love this art.' He started sending Tweets of his art, saying, 'This is what I do.' He was getting very excited and emotional, saying, 'I love what you're doing.' And then he said, 'I'm really inspired.' He did an artwork that he said was inspired by us, which meant it was his 'Aboriginal art'. When we saw it, we said, 'What do we say to this guy? "You've crossed a barrier" or "You've crossed a line, but you did it with good intentions."' Where does that sit in the scheme of things? There needs to be terminology. For instance, in the past, the term 'champagne' was used everywhere in Australia for anything that was sparkling and then France stepped in and said, 'No. If it's not from here, then you don't call it 'champagne'; you call it sparkling wine.' There was big resistance during that time for Australians to do that, but now it's natural for us. Thirty years down the track and you would think it absurd that we would call it 'champagne' if it wasn't from Champagne. There needs to be a set of terminology. He was inspired by Aboriginal art. He used the iconography completely incorrectly, but it was done with good intention. Perhaps he could label it a certain way or I could say, 'What you've done is this,' and he could look it up and see where he sits in terms of Aboriginal art. Beyond that, we've been looking at regulation, in terms of the legalities and government coming in and saying, 'It has to be this, this and that.' But I think there also needs to be a conversation about the different types of fakery. We should have terminology for the well-intentioned fakery and, then, terminology for the genuine, real stuff so that we know what it is and where it's from and that sort of thing. There needs to be something along those lines to define what's going on. I think that's all I had to say.

ACTING CHAIR: I'll just make an observation. I'll think you'll find it hard to convince a lot of people that fake's not fake.

Ms Clark : Yes. So what is it? Maybe we're using the wrong language.

ACTING CHAIR: Yes. But I think the issue is that if it's identified as Aboriginal inspired—'This piece of artwork was stimulated by my conversations with blah and is not Aboriginal art; it is my art'—that's one thing. But that's not what's happening in most cases. It's being produced as authentic Aboriginal art or Aboriginal-like art on the assumption that people would think that it has been done by an Aboriginal person or under contract to an Aboriginal person or with their authority, which it has not. So I think there is a bit of an issue.

Ms CLAYDON: Is Waltja a member of the Indigenous Art Code?

Ms Clark : We are not. But, as I said, it's only in the last 18 months that we've decided that we need to be more formal about what we're doing and what we're selling, and one of the things on our list is to join up with the Indigenous Art Code. The first step was to reconnect with Desart and use their database, which is what we've done. That was a huge job. That online presence was the first step. We've also joined up with Viscopy and Arts Law, and the other thing on the to-do list is the Indigenous Art Code.

Ms CLAYDON: When you connect up with Desart and use their system, are you talking about the SAM system that we heard evidence about from the Tangentyere Artists?

Ms Clark : Yes.

Ms CLAYDON: You're happy with that system for your purposes?

Ms Clark : It's limited, but it serves our purpose, in terms of working in the same way as other art centres. I think that we are better off adjusting our business model to SAM, as opposed to trying to reinvent the wheel and writing our own database that fits in with our business model. So we're in the process of conforming to that Desart model.

ACTING CHAIR: So the stars will align at some point in the relatively near future and you'll be in all those organisations and kicking in the same direction, basically.

Ms Clark : Yes.

ACTING CHAIR: In their production, clearly these are wonderful; they're great pieces of work. Who do you see as your competition in this space?

Ms Clark : We've tried to produce a product that nobody else offers. It's a product that's actually stitched from swag canvas offcuts. But we still are in the same space as places like Tjanpi and Tangentyere Artists and that sort of thing, to a point, because we're not fine art; we're not specialists in art. If someone did something that was worth a million dollars, we probably wouldn't recognise it. So we're not actually in that space. Our space is in social support and education, and in running our media services as well, because we produce a free magazine that goes out. The people who buy from us, the people we've tapped into, are ones who like our story, want to support us and want to be part of the positive stories of Central Australia, which is where we place ourselves online. In the past, we lost when trying to compete in the Indigenous art space. But, in terms of our positive stories about the services that we offer, that's when people go, 'Oh, I'll go online and buy that.' We're also in the Central Australian art trail.

ACTING CHAIR: Do you wholesale any of these to anyone?

Ms Clark : We've been unsuccessful in that area, mainly because there's just not enough mark-up. We don't want to push up the price of them, and so, whenever retailers have inquired, we haven't been able to give them enough discount for them to promote them.

Ms CLAYDON: I want to ask about this diary cover. Is it a physical book that people put inside of these?

Ms Clark : Yes, say your notebook or something that you are bringing to a meeting. The large ones fit the large desktop diary. There is this issue of who uses paper diaries now.

Ms CLAYDON: I was trying to figure out if it would fit iPads, because that's probably where most people's notebooks are these days.

Ms Clark : Exactly, but going down that road is difficult because of the continuous changing of the parameters. We are at the moment talking to someone about licensing their image to use on Redbubble or a similar store, so that people can have it for their phones and their iPads and that sort of thing, but we need to have the correct licensing before we go down that path. But, if you're doing it for digital products, it's just too hard really. There is also the responsibility of harm being caused to the product from our product—like scratching or whatever—and we haven't got the design. You have to properly design things to cover digital products. We often talk about that, though.

Ms CLAYDON: Given your interest, perhaps, in looking at some licensing arrangements, would you be turning to Desart—you're a member of Desart—because they have just produced, in partnership with Arts Law, the licensing tool kit, a bit of a template about how you might look at that?

Ms Clark : We're working with them now on that. At the recent Desart conference, we had meetings with Viscopy, or whatever their new name is, and Arts Law, and they've sent us a bunch of resources and we are working through that now with them.

Ms CLAYDON: How do you ensure your artists are getting a fair price for the product that they're producing? Is this restricted to the emergency relief payment system that you're operating? Yes? Okay, so somebody is coming to seek emergency relief. Could I just clarify, because where I come from emergency relief is a government funded program: are you a charitable organisation funded to deliver emergency relief?

Ms Clark : Yes, and that runs out in the first month, so we top it up with that but we keep the same parameters in terms of the circumstances under which a person can receive the money.

Ms CLAYDON: But you're saying that the government assistance runs out within the first month and you're self-funding for the remaining 11 months, and the way that you're doing that is by asking people to produce these diary covers?

Ms Clark : That's right, and the board sets the price. They meet five times a year. That's set by the board, and the reasons why people can receive funding are set by the board as well. They are all Indigenous women. They are elected from each of the communities that we represent. There will be an executive and a board member and then two people from each community as well, so there's a lot of on-the-ground discussion about what should and shouldn't be done. There are a lot of rules.

ACTING CHAIR: For the purposes of the committee and the Hansard, could you just outline the communities who are members of Waltja?

Ms Clark : You've got me there! It's Central Australian communities. There are about 20. I can't name them all for you, but ones like Kintore, Papunya—

ACTING CHAIR: Mount Liebig.

Ms Clark : Mount Liebig is a big member.

ACTING CHAIR: Haasts Bluff.

Ms Clark : Yes, Haasts Bluff.


Ms Clark : Yes, Nyirripi. It's that kind of central region.


Ms Clark : Yes, Yuendumu. Some communities work with us more than others; it depends on the programs.

ACTING CHAIR: We might get you to take that on notice.

Ms Clark : I have the list. I can print it off for you.

ACTING CHAIR: Just give it to Hansard, thank you.

Ms CLAYDON: Who are your customers?

Ms Clark : For purchasing the artwork?

Ms CLAYDON: Yes. Is manufacturing diary covers the sum total of the artwork at present?

Ms Clark : We also have ininti seed and gumnut jewellery, like you're wearing, punu carvings and paintings, but 90 per cent of it is those diary covers. That's our unique thing. If someone needs the funds and has made jewellery then we can purchase that from them as opposed to making a diary cover.

Ms CLAYDON: So 90-odd per cent of your product is the diary covers. Who is purchasing those?

Ms Clark : Online it's usually Australian people who've connected with us through Twitter. Generally they're more socially-minded people who want to help our program. The reason I know that it's mainly those people—for instance, in the last two weeks Waltja ran out of funds for me to keep tweeting, so I didn't tweet for two weeks, and we didn't have any sales for two weeks. It's as immediate as that: someone sees a story and they purchase online. Those are our main customers. We also get quite a lot of tourists coming by, much more than we used to. Two years ago we sold $10,000 worth of product from walk-ins, then last year it was $30,000. It has jumped up since we started getting serious about being involved in Desart and the Central Australian art trail. We're part of that group of places that people visit. We get walk-ins, but only a few a day. They're often international tourists.

ACTING CHAIR: Thank you, Jane. We'll visit you after we've spoken to these lovely people from Araluen.

Ms Clark : That's right, you will be visiting me.

ACTING CHAIR: We look forward to that. Thank you for giving us the time this afternoon.

Ms Clark : No worries. Thanks for doing it. It's good that there's this high level of discussion about the fakery. I think it needs some more meat behind what it is; I don't think enough people think it's serious or worth pursuing, because it may not be well defined in the general arena.

ACTING CHAIR: One of the challenges is trying to get an accurate estimation of the cost—how much genuine product is being displaced as a result of knock-offs coming into the market, how much they are turning over that would otherwise go to Aboriginal artists.

Ms Clark : Through art centres you can get to the artists, otherwise you're not going to reach the real Indigenous artists who should be—

ACTING CHAIR: This is as true of people in Brisbane as it is here.

Ms Clark : True.

ACTING CHAIR: Even people living in major metropolitan centres are suffering the same rip-offs.

Ms Clark : It's not fair.

ACTING CHAIR: No, it isn't—well, we don't think it is, anyway. Some people may, but we'll have a dispute.

Ms Clark : Exactly.