Artist Delvene Cockatoo-Collins has had many roles over the years. From working in retail to working at a university. And from modelling to youth work, and now raising her three boys. Starting out creating art and jewellery as a hobby, then expanding to sell her creations at local markets, Delvene is now a full-time artist with a permanent studio and retail space in her hometown of Dunwich on Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island).
Delvene’s brand, Made in Minjerribah, began with ceramic whales; inspired by a sighting of Migalu the white whale with her family on Minjerribah in 2014. She then branched out into other ceramics, jewellery, screen printing and homewares. Despite her growing success, everything is still made by hand at her studio in Dunwich.
For Delvene, her work is a family affair, taking inspiration from her ancestors, the history of the land, and spending time with her relatives on the island. A lot of her work centres around recording stories by responding to them in a material form; whether that be sculptures, installations or ceramics so that others can access and appreciate them, and also ensure the stories are passed down through the generations.
Her days on the island are spent with family, creating works of art in her studio and spending as much time as she can in the natural environment that inspires her work.
Delvene was approached to design the medals for the Commonwealth Games, which are being held on the Gold Coast in April 2018. The final medal design was revealed at a ceremony in November 2017. We caught up with her to find out about the story behind the medals and a bit about her life on Minjerribah.
What was it like growing up on Minjerribah?
I remember a lot of family always being around. I felt happy, safe and at peace. It was always my wish for my children to grow up here on the island too. For them to be near their family and to have the freedom to move around.
Can you tell us a bit about your family life?
My mum and dad live around the corner, my brother and his family live up the hill and I live in Dunwich with my husband and three sons. Our home is an old cottage and the second home on our property is where my grandmother used to cook meals for the mine workers. I currently run it as an Airbnb. My studio is across the road, it is also the space where I sell my homewares and ceramics. I appreciate the quietness of Dunwich and the community feeling that it has. It’s a place where I feel connected to because of our family history. There are so many unique places around Dunwich including our North Stradbroke Island Historical Museum which is just down the road from me.
Can you tell us more about the history of the Quandamooka people and their connection with the Moreton Bay area?
Our people have been here for time immemorial and continue to have our strong cultural connections across Quandamooka country, which also includes Moorgumpin and the South Moreton Bay Islands. I appreciate the way I was raised within a family structure and community environment. Some of these include the work our Minjerribah Moorgumpin Elders in Council have done to ensure we have access to a wide variety resources including their Jandai Language Dictionary.
How did you get started in the creative arts world?
While I was at Griffith University as a student in the Batchelor of Arts (majoring in tourism), I also worked at Queensland Aboriginal Creations (QAC) in George Street in Brisbane. Later when it moved to Elizabeth Street, I made jewellery and sold through QAC. I entered and was a finalised in the Memento Awards in 2002. I moved away for ten years to Adelaide and only when I returned home, did I return to making and creating. With the encouragement of a few close people, I slowly got back into making and experimenting with other mediums including ceramics.
What made you want to become an artist?
I feel it has always played some role in my life and I saw an opportunity to take this full time. Being at home on Minjerribah was part of this decision as my practice is very much tied into my everyday life on the island and it is inspired by everything around me.
You create jewellery, ceramics and textiles – which is your favourite medium to work in?
It changes regularly and I’m enjoying the ceramics at the moment. Working with different clays especially with the ones from across the islands. Right now, I’m on Moorgumpin – Moreton Island – and just finished walking about 20km in search of clay. Yesterday I was at Karragarra with my sister doing the same thing. I’m currently working on a clay map which will be in my exhibition in April at the Redland Art Gallery.
What inspires your designs?
My work reflects what my mother has shared with me, what my grandmother has written and what I’ve experienced living on Minjerribah and the islands around Quandamooka Country.
What do you enjoy most about being an artist?
Having the choice to make the work I feel is important. Working the hours I need to and having choices including attending events like Homeground Festival in Sydney, and Festival of Pacific Arts in Guam.
Are there any people in your life or in the arts that have inspired you?
Yes, everywhere I am inspired by different people including my mum, Judy Watson the artist, Maryann Talia Pau and Anaheke Metua who are both weavers, Jane Jennison who I work with on Jarjums Life Museum, Sandy O’Sullivan my PhD Supervisor.
What is the piece you feel most proud of?
I’m proud of all of my work that I make publicly available and I feel there’s more to come.
Are you taking part in the Quandamooka Festival again this year?
Yes, I feel it is an important part of my calendar. It’s helped me develop my work. It’s been a great opportunity to connect with other artists and together showcase our communities.
What is your favourite part of the festival?
The Yura Yalingbilla – Welcome the Whales Day which is usually on the last weekend of July. It is a one-day event at Mooloomba – Point Lookout – and has a program of cultural and scientific knowledge on the whales that migrate past our coastline, local performances and a great selection of food. It’s also well attended by patrons from Chamber of Music Festival which is on during the same weekend.
When you are not creating works of art what do you like to do in your spare time?
I spend time at home or at a few of my favourite beaches in Dunwich.
Can you tell us a bit about your design for the Commonwealth Games medals?
The designs on the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games medals are the soft sand lines which shift with every tide and are symbolic of athletic achievement. In the ribbon, the pattern is the woven strand of the freshwater reed ‘yungair’ is three reeds woven together and forms a series of triangles joined together.
The medals are partly inspired by the Gold Coast coastline – what is your favourite thing about living by the ocean?
My favourite would be the choice to walk on the beach every day. It really is a privilege.
Have you ever won a medal?
Yes, I used to run – in athletics. I always did ok at local and regional level. I’m pretty sure there were some gold medals in that mix.
Are you planning to go to any of the Commonwealth Games events?
Yes, I will be at the Opening Ceremony, and table tennis and the rugby 7s.
Do you take part in any sports yourself?
I try to run daily depending on if I have to be away from home.
What are your goals for 2018?
My goals are to go to see my mum every day and have a cup of tea with her, not to work Sundays, and have some key events scheduled in including my exhibitions, one of the Art Fairs, and the Quandamooka Festival events.
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