Encouraging the contemporary expression of Aboriginal culture in all its forms is a passion that drives Alison to facilitate the telling of ancient stories in new and innovative ways.
Alison, you’re originally from Sydney. What made you move to the North Coast?
I moved to the North Coast when I was 9, when my parents split up, so I went to high school and everything in Coffs Harbour. However, my family connections to La Perouse are still really strong.
I do feel connected to the land here now, but I always refer to myself as a concrete Koorie ‘cause I am originally from the city – and that really translates through the work that I do.
I am really a passionate advocate for contemporary Aboriginal culture, so really about telling ancient stories in new ways and forms. Aboriginal people express ancient stories in hip hop, contemporary dance, all forms or music, art, digital media – just to name a few.
You’re an award winning Aboriginal designer, artist, TV personality and festival director. Where do you find all your time?
I do have my fingers in a lot of different pies but there really is a common theme that runs through them, which really stems around culture and the expression of Aboriginal identity – whether it’s with design or directing festivals. It’s all story telling.
I think once you get versed as well with the process of working with communities, it all becomes much easier. The communities are the ones that come together and make these things happen.
You are one of a very few handful of indigenous interior designers here in Australia today. Are you trying to encourage more indigenous people into that field?
Absolutely! I would have to say the Aboriginal design program that we run here at the Arts Alliance is my passion. I took a concept to the Australia 2020 summit in 2008, and it was about starting a National Design Brokering service where we basically represent artists and we act as an agent for Aboriginal artists right through to manufacturers.
The program is about getting Aboriginal art onto lighting, furniture, carpets – just home wares basically. We want to present these opportunities to other Aboriginals in the area.
What we are doing at the festival this year is launching a beautiful book called Saltwater Freshwater Art, which features 39 Aboriginal artists. Their work is photographed and presented in this book. Sitting behind those 39 artists are another 140 artists, who are emerging at a different level.
We are running courses all along the North Coast, where we have artists producing bags, table runners, ceramics and really just going for it. They also feature in the book, and they will have a stall at the festival this year. I’ve also just got back from a study tour in Vietnam with 12 of the best of those students, where we went through villages and they did different hand made objects and embroidery.
The Saltwater Freshwater Festival is being held here in Port Macquarie this year. Are you hoping for as big a crowd as you had in Coffs last year?
Well, I’m thinking we might even have a bigger crowd. We’re extending our hours from 11am ‘til 9pm this year. There will be the IBA markets, which are being sponsored by the Indigenous Business Australia, where all different types of artists and people with different cultural products will be selling their wares. We have different Aboriginal food stalls as well.
The biggest platform, I suppose, is for the artists themselves performing on the stage. This year we are doing a Saltwater Freshwater Unearthed, so there will be this space on the stage for emerging talents. This will give them a great opportunity to perform next to some of the greats.
What are some of the highlights of this year’s festival that we can look forward to?
I think the Yarn Tent this year will be really exciting, because that will be a nice place to eat and retreat and listen to a really fantastic debate around Aboriginal identity.
And we’ll have some speakers in the tent as well, like our festival coach Nathan Ridgeway and a really renowned Aboriginal curator at the National Museum of Australia, Margo Neil.
Also, Generation One’s spokesperson Tania Major, the CEO of the Aboriginal employment covenant, whose name is Rhonda Parker. ‘So You Reckon You Can Didge’ will be there as well; they were very popular last year. Street Warriors will be headlining as well. We’ve also got Neil Murray back, who’s great.
One of the really unique things we are doing this year is Port Macquarie-Hastings Council will be hosting the citizenship ceremony as part of the festival. It will be on the main stage, and we’ll be welcoming the new citizens in front of everyone.
For anyone who wants to volunteer for the festival, how do they do so?
If they want to be a volunteer, have a stall, or if they’re an emerging performer, they can go to our website: www.saltwaterfreshwaterfestival.com.au and for volunteers they can email firstname.lastname@example.org
I would just like to say a huge thank you to all our sponsors. They are all part of our family so it’s not just about them funding us. They have been working with us in the lead up to this day to make it a great event. And we look forward to growing our relationship with them.
Thank you Alison.