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The Weekend Australian Magazine 10 questions: Alison Page, interior designer, 39 by Jill Rowbotham
Alison Page: “We are not going to get interesting designers if they all come from the middle class.” Picture: Renee Nowytarger Source: The Australian
YOU moved up the coast from Sydney to Coffs Harbour with your English mother and four sisters when you were nine. When did you become interested in design?
I won a Lego competition when I was 12, at the main shopping centre, with a housing estate I built to scale. I became interested in architecture, design and model-making. Later I built models for my friend’s father, who was a local builder.
Why did you choose design as a career?
I chose a career I knew would have a job at the end of the training, but in which I could still be creative. The most valuable thing about it is that it taught me to think laterally and to solve problems with creativity in all aspects of my life.
You were raised mostly away from your Aboriginal father and knew little about traditional design. What drew you to that field?
I realised that if I had a culturally based career, that is, as an Aboriginal designer, every day I went to work I would learn more about my culture and my identity.
You excelled in your design course at the University of Technology in Sydney. What was it like being away from home?
Really tough. I had to waitress for 30 hours a week as well as doing uni full-time just to survive. That was 1992 and it’s even tougher now. That’s a reason I am involved in design training here at Coffs Harbour. Also, we are not going to get interesting designers if they all come from the middle class and can afford to live and study in Sydney.
You were a panellist on ABC-TV’s The New Inventors for eight years. How did you get that gig?
I was in transit when I was asked to audition and bring in my favourite invention. Working from my suitcase, it came down to the diaphragm or the bra I was wearing. The bra was a new design of wetsuit material with no metal clips, so I decided on it – you can’t pull your diaphragm out of your bag, really.
In 2008 you won an Australian Jewellery Design Award for a diamond necklace. What was the appeal?
Aboriginal designers don’t just make pretty shapes or squiggles and dots; design has to have a story. That’s what I brought to the Diamond Dreaming range and people love it because they want the objects around them to have meaning.
Why did you set up the Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance, and its annual festival, at Coffs Harbour five years ago?
To support elders to pass on cultural knowledge to youth. We’ve revived the practice of weaving here and are doing the same for canoe-building, in collaboration with the National Maritime Museum.
What are your hopes for young Aboriginal people in the area?
For Saltwater Freshwater to show what culture can offer them: economic opportunities in tourism, art, design and events.
The next step for the alliance is to become sustainable. How?
We have launched a commercial arm, the National Aboriginal Design Agency, working with Aboriginal artists to put our art onto carpets and textiles, so we are pitching to manufacturers an authentic Aboriginal range.
What’s behind the alliance’s project to commission modern Aboriginal legends?
We need to help our young people navigate their way through this modern world. The point of our traditional stories was always to pass on lessons on how to live. We want some new ones for example, to talk about what it’s like to grow up in a house with a single mum and how kids could help out a little more. That’s a fantastic message for young people to hear.