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Designers move beyond the dots

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Alison Page was interviewed by Ray Edgar from The Age newspaper, discussing the Indigenous perspective on Design

Alison Page offers a simple premise: ”What would the Australian lounge-room look like if it was designed from an Aboriginal perspective?”

Page is perhaps the most high profile of the new generation of designers promoting Aboriginal culture.

”It’s all about stories,” she says. It might be the Milky Way in Lucy Simpson’s fabrics or the abundant seed pods in Brentyn Lugnan’s lace curtains. These abstract patterns inspired by dreaming stories reflect the ongoing nature of kinship bound by storytelling. The fact that the stories from Simpson’s Yuwaalaraay heritage or Lugnan’s Gumbaynggirr ancestors now appear in domestic environments where people gather only reinforces that notion.

Alison Page.Alison Page.

”I love to say ‘Aboriginal design isn’t a new thing’,” says Simpson, the creative force behind the label Gaawaa Miyay. ”It’s been something that’s been perfected over thousands of years. But people are recognising it now and becoming aware of it.”

National touring exhibitions such as Cusp and the first Australian Indigenous Fashion Week in April, help magnify the profile of Aboriginal design, Fabia Pryor says. A sustainable business consultant, she specialises in ethical and indigenous fashion and textiles. According to Pryor, the Aboriginal design business is ”biting at the heels” of the multimillion-dollar Aboriginal art industry.

”The industry is at the cusp and about to become much more commercial,” she says.

Cups by Alison Page.

A former panellist on the ABC’s New Inventors, Page is an award-winning designer and executive officer of the Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance, a not for profit organisation governed by 10 local Aboriginal land councils on the mid-NSW coast.

Two years ago Page established the National Aboriginal Design Agency as the commercial arm of the alliance. As its creative director she helps broker commercial partnerships. Clients include Westpac, for whom NADA is doing a fit-out at Barangaroo. Meanwhile several NADA artists feature in Cusp.

”It’s about looking at the Australian style and honouring the fact that Aboriginal art and storytelling should be central to the Australian style,” says Page, a descendant of the Walbanga and Wadi Wadi people of the Yuin nation.

Even the most highly functional objects such as the boomerang have a story carved into them, she says. ”It builds preciousness into objects. So the cups we use every day, the carpets we walk on, everything around you in your home, if it has a greater level of meaning to you it speaks to you, then it’s going to be more precious. It’s not a throwaway item.”

Page sees Aboriginal design as ”a great opportunity for Australian manufacturers to get in with something innovative and be the first to market with something that has a global appeal. There’s a push away from the generic”.

For all this enthusiasm, Victorian indigenous design is lagging, says Tracey-Lea Smith, manager of Baluk Arts on the Mornington Peninsula. ”Melbourne is seen as a mecca of design yet how come we are so behind when it comes to working with Aboriginal artists and design?” she asks.

In the long-term, Smith believes the mainstreaming of Aboriginal design may help change perceptions of the value and variety of indigenous people’s work. ”[Baluk Arts] has 2.5 million tourists a year and the majority walk out because they haven’t seen a dot painting,” says Smith.

Page agrees. ”I love challenging that more than anything,” she says. ”The thing people find most surprising about my aesthetic is that it’s very clean and very minimal and quite abstract – it’s not just about animal totems or dots because there is such diversity within Aboriginal art. We need to bring that aesthetic to the design world.

”I would like to create objects that have an incredible meaning that people would want to keep for 40,000 years.”






Keeping It Real

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Alison Page talks about Aboriginal Design and ‘keeping it real” with Bridie Henehan from Inspire Magazine.


Alison Page, Creative Director of the National Aboriginal Design Agency (NADA). Image courtesy of NADA.

Sitting in the Coffs Harbour office of the National Aboriginal Design Agency its Creative Director Alison Page is smiling broadly and shaking her head. She has been sharing images and samples from the extensive and eye-catching range of contemporary Aboriginal interior design products and homewares the agency has under development. ‘I know, it’s unreal, right?’ she says.

‘Unreal’ too, says Alison are the collaborative artistic and strategic business partnerships NADA is forming, which it hopes will move Aboriginal design to the forefront of Australia’s built environment and interior design industry.

Such partnerships brokered between the Aboriginal artists that NADA represents and Australian manufacturers will enable the artists’ designs to be realised as carpets, lighting, furniture, textiles and architectural products.

Or, as Alison describes it: “objects with stories, architecture with a soul”.

‘Co-creating – it’s my favourite word of the moment’, said Alison. ‘It’s about partnerships; formal and informal partnerships, people coming together and asking “what can we do?” It’s having that blank piece of paper sitting in front of you, and going for it’.

Read more…



Surrender and ask plenty of questions

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Alison Page rides her bike to what she believes is the best job in the world. Five years ago she gave up her own creative business to take the helm of social enterprise, Saltwater Freshwater Arts Alliance, working with a variety of stakeholders to help revive and protect Aboriginal culture and heritage.


In this article by Women’s Agenda editor Angela priestly, the winner of the Emerging Leader in the NFP/Public Sector Award at the 2013 NAB Women’s Agenda Leadership Awards explains how she juggles her leadership career with being a mum, and why the best help you can get often comes from your own open-ended questions.



Alison Page : The Most Interesting Person I Know

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Breathing Hope into our Community

If you have ever opened the paper or turned on the news and seen a story about Aboriginal Australians that just made you want to weep with hopelessness and despair, then you need to spend an hour with Alison Page.

She is a tonic, a genuine breath of hope with the outlook and energy to change the world.

To read the full article on Alison Page please follow this link







OneSight and Ray Ban Competition

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OneSight and Ray-Ban are launching a competition to find an original and unique Indigenous artwork or design to be printed on a limited number of iconic Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses.

This competition is open to emerging Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander artists. Alison Page Creative Director of National Aboriginal Design Agency has been invited to be on the judging panel for the competition, alongside Aden Ridgeway, the first Indigenous Parliamentary leader and member of OneSight’s Advisory Board and Christopher Beer, CEO of Luxottica Group Asia Pacific

The competition is open from Wednesday 20 November 2013 to Friday 7 March 2014.

Please visit the OneSight website for more information on how to apply for this competition

“ The ancient tradition of Aboriginal art and storytelling has combined with one of the great contemporary design icons to raise money to improve the lives of our people. This is what our living culture is all about,” Alison Page.



“Alison Page talking shop with Glenn Barkley”

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Alison Page joined Glenn Barkley, Senior Curator, Museum of Contemporary Art to discuss Aboriginal design and craft – what makes it unique?, how does it connect with traditional cultures and techniques? how does it relate with Aboriginal contemporary art?

The talk was held in the ‘string theory shop’ designed by Alison Page,  and was one of the many public events held throughout the ‘String Theory’ exhibition.

Audio of the talk coming soon!

photo courtesy of the MCA:






ABC Radio Interview : Alison Page

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Alison Page was interviewed by Geraldine Coutts from ABC Radio about her placement in the Murra Indigenous Master Class Program

The MURRA Indigenous Business Master Class Program is a six session series of classes for established Indigenous Australian business owners and leaders run over the course of six months. Each session is run intensively over two days and the program is open to applicants from all parts of Australia.

Alison graduated from Murra in August, Congratulations Alison and all the graduating participants!

Please listen to the interview by following this link to ABC Radio







Inside Magazine

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National Aboriginal Design Agency is featured in the current edition of Inside Magazine




Westpac Foundation

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National Aboriginal Design Agency is proudly supported by the Westpac Foundation

The Agency recently produced a 2 minute video for Westpac Foundation to show how their support is helping us to change peoples lives, please view this short video

Thank you to Bibi Barba and Brentyn Lugnan for agreeing to be involved in this video





String Theory: Focus on Contemporary Australian Art

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Alison Page, Creative Director, National Aboriginal Design Agency has created a ‘Pop Up Shop’ as part of String Theory : Focus on Contemporary Australian art, an exhibition that brings together over 30 different artists and artist groups from around Australia. String Theory is open at the MCA until 27 October 2013.   The string theory shop has in mind sustainability and functionality being created from recyclable cardboard boxes, cardboard plinths and handmade string; the entire shop is enclosed by an original Aboriginal Lace Curtain from The National Aboriginal Design Agency.

‘Page’s design for the string theory store merges fine art and sustainable design functionality. Cardboard boxes are woven together to create into an arching wall of display shelving. Plinths for objects are made of coiled packing cardboard. Hanging from the ceiling a hoop made from handmade string by Yirrkala artists suspends merchandise. Enclosing the entire space is a specially designed lace curtain that depicts Gumbaynggirr artist Brentyn Lugnan’seed dreaming (2013)…… The string theory store openly acknowledges the social importance that the market place plays in Aboriginal art and life. ‘ Glenn Barkley, Senior Curator MCA.