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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

YU, Ms Eunice, Coordinator, Nagula Jarndu Women's Arts and Resource Centre

YU-MACKAY, Ms Lyn, Chairperson, Nagula Jarndu Women's Arts and Resource Centre


CHAIR: Welcome. Is there anything you wish to add about the capacity in which you appear today?

Ms Yu-Mackay : I am chairperson of Nagula Jarndu, which means 'Saltwater Woman' in Yawuru language.

CHAIR: As these proceedings are public, they are being broadcast and recorded by Hansard. If you to have evidence heard in private, please let us know, and we'll consider that request. Although the committee doesn't require you to give evidence under oath, I wish to let you know that the hearing is a formal process and is part of parliament. Giving false or misleading evidence is a serious matter and may be regarded as a contempt of parliament. If you object to answering a question, please state your reasons for your objection, and the committee will consider that matter.

I now invite you to make an opening statement.

Ms Yu-Mackay : Nagula Jarndu, as you know, is a women's and arts centre. Our vision is to empower Indigenous women and also to employ Indigenous women. We have about 80 members, and it's an Indigenous board that can have eight directors. In day-to-day business our main activity is art. We have about nine artists, and we create original fabrics on cottons, linens and silks. Every single piece is an original design. More recently we've ventured into digital screen printing because we have to give the artists more opportunities to learn new techniques and produce different types of art. They come on rolls, so there are issues in both forms in terms of copyright, authenticity, and getting out there and selling to the consumer.

CHAIR: Did you want to add any comments, Eunice?

Ms Yu : Just that the organisation was established in 1987. So it's been there for a long period of time, over which we've survived several challenges. We do have a relationship with the native title owners. We are the native title owners, the corporate group of Yawuru, so we're associated as a particular women's focus area.

In relation to the art that we produce as textiles, we are, I guess, exploring the current issues associated with hand block printing by the artists and also screen printing. We offer a safe haven, we think, for our women who have mental health issues and our renal dialysis patients. We operate a social enterprise in terms of the art aspect of it but we also provide a holistic support service, engaging other partners to assist where we can. We do that as well at Nagula Jarndu.

CHAIR: When you say you have renal dialysis patients as well, is your studio close by to the treatment centre?

Ms Yu : It's about three kilometres from the rental dialysis centre. The patients usually have to attend three days a week, so they will get a lift down to the centre and the centre staff will drop them home.

CHAIR: To be clear: the fabrics that you produce are sold?

Ms Yu-Mackay : Yes.

CHAIR: Is there a protection for the design for the girls who produced it?

Ms Yu-Mackay : Under the Copyright Act we have an expectation or understanding that to a degree it's protected in that sense. When we sell pieces we do issue an authenticity certificate.

CHAIR: That's for the consumer, and that is perfect; that's a great way of communicating that it's been produced by a person of Indigenous heritage and culture. But the concern we are beginning to have on a much larger scale is: if somebody buys that piece, do they then believe they have the right to photograph it, print it, use it as an artwork and then put it on the walls, on cushions, on couches? Is the artist protected in any way?

Ms Yu-Mackay : We have a sign up in the shop that says that if you buy a piece it's only for personal use and if you want to enter into any other sort of arrangement you're welcome to sit down and discuss it with us. We do have licensing agreement templates but we haven't actually entered into an agreement with anyone as yet. There are lots of individuals with small businesses—someone who wants to make bags or, say, fascinators—but they're not necessarily in that position. It might be a hobby for them at the moment. So we have to weigh that up on an individual basis.

CHAIR: Where did you get your advice for your licensing agreements?

Ms Yu-Mackay : We get pro bono advice from a legal company.

CHAIR: Are the licensing agreements all the same, or are they a little bit flexible depending on—

Ms Yu-Mackay : They're flexible. There's a standard template, because I understand it's up to the artist to make that decision if they want to enter into a licensing agreement. But then Nagula Jarndu—or the corporate body, I guess—would have to negotiate a fee.

CHAIR: A commission fee?

Ms Yu-Mackay : Yes. So it varies.

CHAIR: What we've spoken of to other organisations, to save every different group having to get pro bono advice or costed advice, is having agreements that are more a template plus building blocks to change or adjust. Would you be willing to put forward one of your agreements to go into the collective for us to review and then come back for recommendations at a later date?

Ms Yu-Mackay : I think so, yes.

CHAIR: It would be very helpful.

Mr HAMMOND: De-identified, so it doesn't have to reveal anyone's name.

CHAIR: Yes, no names—just to give us an indication of how your agreements are working. We've asked that same question of a number of groups. Ultimately, the idea is to make sure the cultural heritage is protected and to give the best method possible to make sure that that happens on a grand scale.

Ms Yu-Mackay : I like that idea, and we understand the reasons behind it. As I think I mentioned, the Arts Law Centre is there as well, and we could tap into their resources. We've actually sent them a different type of agreement to have a look at and to work on.

CHAIR: Are you aware of the Indigenous Art Code?

Ms Yu-Mackay : Yes. Well, we have it printed, and it's on the shelf. I would have to say I don't necessarily know the detail; I'm aware it exists and I think we should operate within its boundaries.

CHAIR: That's a question that we're asking a lot of organisations as well.

Ms CLAYDON: I just wanted to follow up on the Indigenous Art Code. You think that Nagula Jarndu is a member of the Indigenous Art Code?

Ms Yu-Mackay : I'm not sure. I know we've got paperwork there.

Ms CLAYDON: Does anyone who's purchasing work from you, coming into the shop, ever ask that question?

Ms Yu-Mackay : No.

Ms CLAYDON: That's not shocking. That's been the experience. It seems like there's not a very widespread knowledge of the Indigenous Art Code and what it does, certainly amongst consumers; among tourists you would expect even less, particularly international tourists. But it does go to a question about there not being a clearly identified logo or a good working knowledge of what that means. We've spoken to the Indigenous Art Code; it's ostensibly one woman running it for the entire nation. So, it's an enormous task ahead of her, and plenty of people have given us evidence about needing to resource that better. We're really starting behind the eight ball in that consumers don't know it, and a lot of the member groups don't really know its benefits that well either.

I wanted to ask you something to follow up on the work that you are doing to support women who might be experiencing mental health issues, in addition to the renal dialysis patients that you're working with. From some of the notes that we got earlier on, I think you also try to engage your women artists in a broader artistic practice. We recently went to the RevealedExhibition in Perth. I know that you've participated in that sort of thing. Can you talk to us a little bit about that work with your group of women artists and how successful or otherwise the reaching out into other marketplaces has been.

Ms Yu-Mackay : This past Revealed Exhibition was very good for us. We had one huge wall covered with our fabrics, and everyone was impressed.

Mr HAMMOND: It was amazing.

Ms Yu-Mackay : Getting read for that in itself is time consuming. As you say, we have renal patients and artists that have other social and emotional wellbeing issues that we all have to consider. It's not like nine to five—sometimes artists come in the morning; sometimes they'll come in the afternoon and the really, really keen ones will stay there all day, and there might be a couple of them out of our nine artists. Revealed and the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair would be the two major exhibitions that we would prepare for during the year. At the same time, our six-week consultant started today, and we're doing a project for the Nyamba Buru Yawuru, delivering seven framed seasonal pieces depicting the seven seasons. So there is a lot of work involved in working with the individual artists to prepare. Four of us went to the Revealed exhibition, and that was tricky in itself—travelling, the accommodation and finding our way around. We eventually found the red CAT in Fremantle, so that helped.

CHAIR: The CAT is very good!

Ms Yu-Mackay : But it's good walking too, for the exercise, because, if we're empowering Indigenous women, we want that holistic approach.

Mr HAMMOND: Very good!

Ms CLAYDON: There are some much younger women's fabrics and textiles in Fitzroy Crossing attached to the resource centre there. Do you have relationships with other women's art groups across the Kimberley? Are there opportunities for you to work together on things or is that not the case?

Ms Yu-Mackay : The need, the urge and the idea were there to do it, but we don't have a vehicle. I think we were going to travel to Fitzroy Crossing or the Fitzroy Crossing ladies were going to come here. There was an opportunity—they arranged something at Bidyadanga, south of Broome. There was a women's bush meeting, but we didn't have the capacity to attend. We would like to do something in the future, possibly next year, depending on funding. It might be time we applied for grants now, so that maybe we could have a whole-of-Kimberley—

Ms CLAYDON: How are you funded at the moment?

Ms Yu-Mackay : IVAIS, which is the Indigenous Visual Arts Industry Support program.

Ms CLAYDON: Through the Western Australian state government?

Ms Yu-Mackay : The federal government. And we also get funded by Woodside. They'd be our two funding bodies. As you know, funding is—

CHAIR: Is the federal government funding annual, biennial or triennial?

Ms Yu-Mackay : It's a two-year funding agreement for this financial year and next financial year.

CHAIR: So it's in two-year chunks?

Ms Yu-Mackay : Yes. And this is the first time we've ever received it.

Ms CLAYDON: You've not received it?

Ms Yu-Mackay : No, this is the first time we have received it.

Ms CLAYDON: That's a two-year project?

Ms Yu-Mackay : Yes.

CHAIR: Prior to that, it was just annual funding?

Ms Yu-Mackay : No, nothing.

CHAIR: This is the first time you've ever got funding?

Ms Yu-Mackay : Yes.

Ms Yu : There was previous funding through the IAS.

CHAIR: The Indigenous Advancement Strategy.

Ms Yu : Yes.

Ms CLAYDON: So that's the first time you've had Commonwealth funding since 1987 when you started?

CHAIR: No, if you have IAS, that's the Indigenous Advancement Strategy, which is previous funding.

Ms CLAYDON: Indigenous Advancement Strategy was where they shoved the five—everything got condensed into five streams.

Ms Yu : Yes.

CHAIR: Clearly, it didn't work, which is why they got this new one.

Ms Yu : Now they've got the new IVAIS funding.

Ms Yu-Mackay : I think IAS is through PM&C, and the other one is the Department of Communications and the Arts.

Ms CLAYDON: You've probably had to navigate your way around that for some time, I imagine.

Ms Yu-Mackay : Yes.

Ms CLAYDON: As a women-only organisation, in your view, is there anything specific that you think this community should be alive to, because most of the witnesses that we've had so far are representing art centres, so they've got a good solid collection of artists, both men and women. You're the first group that we've spoken to that is specifically a women's space. Why was that important for Yawuru women, and what have been the benefits? Why do you still need to have a women-only space?

Ms Yu-Mackay : When it started in 1987, it was on Yawuru language, because the mothers and the old women would teach the language to the next generations and the babies. We still have an element of that, because when we sell our pieces, or when we tag them, we put the English word and the Yawuru word. It's a way of getting a message across to, say, consumers, if they're interested. You can see the design on the piece of fabric and they say, 'That's the dugong', and then you see the Yawuru word, or that's a goanna and that's a jalanadi. We're about teaching consumers about Yawuru language.

As Eunice mentioned before, we have social and emotional wellbeing issues that we need to work with on a day-to-day basis and that's primarily why we remain a women's centre. The women can come there without any fear and can relax. Our oldest artist is 81 and she's on dialysis. She wheels her chair in and that's her respite. She totally loves the place. We're talking about that quality of life too for some of the ones if they're on dialysis. But, yes, with physical and mental illness and dialysis, we're there to empower women and provide that quality of life. On the ground, we're small. It's an organic organisation, and, as Eunice was saying, we're a social enterprise. We'll get there but slowly.

CHAIR: Do you sell to other places other than retail from the studio?

Ms Yu-Mackay : We recently sold 50-odd metres to the Raw Cloth shop in Darwin and they made it into couture pieces; they make one-off dresses. We went to the ANKAA AGM in November last year. We popped in and showed them some photos. They wanted 35 metres, and as soon as the rolls were delivered they were that impressed with those that they wanted another 17½.

CHAIR: They're doing the value-add?

Ms Yu-Mackay : Yes.

CHAIR: I ask because I was in a souvenir shop and I picked up a sarong of Indigenous design. It's a licensed Indigenous design and it acknowledges which Indigenous group it's from. It's not produced here. I looked at your design work on the wall. They're all different sizes and shapes of fabric. Is there potential for your social enterprise to explore value-adding on site? This sarong cost $59, which a lot for a sarong. I'm happy to do pay it, but I would have preferred that it was manufactured here. I will put that out there, as being a past business person, that I can see massive potential for you guys to value-add in your own capacity.

Ms Yu-Mackay : We've sort of tried that, because we've had at least three fashion parades and pieces have been made. Everyone went 'ooh, aah' and loved it but then it didn't shift—you know, that doesn't actually translate into those pieces being sold. It's more or less advertising and marketing. I think that if we were to make a sarong there it'd be $120 instead of $59 because it's made here in Broome. That would be quite simple because it's a piece of fabric wraparound.

CHAIR: Somebody can actually turn that into something; they don't have to keep it as a sarong. It's an easy thing for you guys to print. It's one piece.

Ms Yu-Mackay : Yes. We have made bags which were very, very popular. We sold out. People loved them. What else?

Ms Yu : I think there are a small range of products like table runners, placemats and silk scarves, so we do have a little bit of a range. But as Lyn was saying earlier, I think, we want to have a bit of control. We don't want to go en masse out into the market. We don't have the capacity. We want a measured approach to achieving where we want to go. And, yes, I think, there is a vision there about having our own retail outlet, but it means that we need to get other expert, skilled people like seamstresses et cetera to actually do that on site, and that, of course, would be an increase in costs and overheads. But that's our dream as well as—

CHAIR: Hold the dream.

Mr HAMMOND: I have a couple of extra questions. Roughly, how many artists are you currently supporting—back of the envelope?

Ms Yu-Mackay : I'd say nine.

Mr HAMMOND: Are you seeing any instances of where the designs produced by your artists appear to be copied?

Ms Yu-Mackay : Not yet.

Mr HAMMOND: So you haven't seen any knock-offs from anything that's come from your group?

Ms Yu-Mackay : No, not yet. I think we're very conscious of that and we're concerned, because we don't want to get ripped off or taken advantage of. That's why we're taking slow steps, to make sure we control that. We've talked about overseas manufacturing and we now don't want to go there. When we sell it we want to say, 'This is Indigenous. It's Australian.' But we totally understand the sums, if you did make it overseas. And I have seen pieces where they say they're designed in Australia but they're made over there.

CHAIR: There are some very good synergies but very good licensing returns back to community. They've got very good solid agreements signed up, which is why we're asking for a copy of yours to blend and make sure that we've got the best possible options, going forward.

Ms CLAYDON: Do you come under the ANKAAA umbrella?

Ms Yu-Mackay : Yes.

Ms CLAYDON: So they get to represent you.

Ms Yu-Mackay : Yes.

Ms CLAYDON: Is that where you would turn for advice, in the first instance, around agreements or—

Ms Yu-Mackay : Not necessarily. We go straight to the problem. But ANKAAA were very—

Ms CLAYDON: Is that not, really, a service ANKAAA provides?

Ms Yu-Mackay : There are about 47 art centres that they're the umbrella organisation for, and we're all at varying levels of everything. We're all quite different. So if we can do it ourselves, up to a point, we'll do it and, then, if we need to talk to them, we'll contact them.

Ms CLAYDON: How did you reach out and find a new market at this store in Darwin, for example?

Ms Yu-Mackay : It was at the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair. I think that was in 2016. We had a new first batch of screen-printing rolls there.

Ms CLAYDON: So they saw it at the art fair and said, 'We love this. We want to stock your—

Ms Yu-Mackay : Yes. It just attracts the market. They say, 'If you want Indigenous art, come to this spot.'

Ms CLAYDON: In your experience, has that been the biggest advantage of attending Revealed and the art show, that you get your artists' work out there? What are your sales like, through that, as opposed to your shopfront here in Broome?

Ms Yu-Mackay : It's interesting, I would say. If we were for commercial purposes, we would not be recovering our costs. With the number of sales we made in Revealed recently we made slightly less than that in one day here when we had an open day and we did a little fundraising for the flying doctor. It's different, and there are different people. That was mainly Broome people, so we had a mini fashion parade and raised money for the flying doctor. It's interesting. If we hadn't gone to Revealed and sold I would not have known that. So we're learning all the time.

Ms Yu : We're exploring an ecommerce site, so hopefully that will open up the opportunity to have greater access for the general public across Australia—not internationally yet.

Ms Yu-Mackay : But that in itself, the supply-and-demand issue—

Ms CLAYDON: Presumably, people who are walking into your shop, here, of the tourists—is it easy for them to seek you out, I guess? Presumably, they're coming to you because they do want to purchase authentic and they're trusting your source. Is that a correct assumption?

Ms Yu-Mackay : I'm laughing because everyone says, 'We can't find you.'

Mr HAMMOND: We're coming looking for you tomorrow!

Ms Yu : If you're coming, you'll have the experience.

Ms Yu-Mackay : But I tell people: 'You know when you go fishing and there's a secret spot, that's us.' Tourists on direct flights from Melbourne, Sydney or Brisbane—last year was great, fantastic, in terms of sales—somehow the word is spreading. We're even getting repeat customers from Bells—

Ms CLAYDON: Do people come to do an arts trail across the Kimberley? I don't know if such a map exists or whether tourist operators do that.

Ms Yu : We've become a member of the Broome Chamber of Commerce and the Broome Visitor Centre, and so, yes, we keep up to speed with each other about what's happening. They let us know where the opportunities are. Nagula Jarndu featured in the Airnorth magazine last year.

Ms Yu-Mackay : Yes, but that was through Marilynne Paspaley. She's fantastic. She runs McAlpine House and she sends all her guests to us, and they all buy something.

CHAIR: Apart from thanking you very much for sharing that story with us, if you've been asked to provide any additional information or if there's anything else that you think we should have talked about today, please send that to the secretariat by 1 May. You'll be sent a copy of the transcript of everything that's been said, and you can suggest corrections.

Mr HAMMOND: Will we see you tomorrow?

Ms Yu-Mackay : Yes. We'll have a big sign out the front.

Committee adjourned at 10:26