Art Centre

Babbarra Designs | Arnhem Land

Babbara Women's Centre, Arnhem LandThe Babbarra Women’s Centre is proudly owned by Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation (BAC). It began as a women’s refuge in the 1983. Now a women’s CDEP centre, it provides employment, and training opportunities through the establishment and operation of appropriate small business enterprises. The Centre runs a textiles workshop, specialising in the production of hand crafted fabric design, a cleaning crew, an OP Shop, laundromat and hairdresser. The centre also engages in a number of community development projects such as the refurbishment of five outstation women’s centres and the establishment of the Maningrida Women’s Committee.

Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation (BAC) is located in Maningrida, in north central Arnhem Land and services an area of some 10,000 square kilometers. Bawinanga is one of Australia’s oldest outstation resource associations. It was established in its original form in 1974 to support those people who chose to live on their clan estates in the Arnhem Land Reserve.

Babbarra Designs is the major activity at the Women’s Centre and has been in operation since 1989.

Aboriginal people within the Maningrida region experienced relatively late contact with the wider Australian society. A permanent Balanda (non-Indigenous person) presence dates only from 1957 when a government settlement was established at Maningrida. Consequently, traditional cultural institutions remain robust and are now an integral part of community life. Society continues to be organised within traditional kinship groups, ceremony remains an important part of life, and people continue to speak their own languages. The Maningrida region is particularly unique in that it fosters over 12 different language groups. Older people and young children may speak very little English. “Country”, and the complex relationship Aboriginal people have with the land and seas of their customary clan estates, is integral to Aboriginal life. This relationship continues to define and govern the social, cultural, spiritual, and territorial aspects of people’s lives.

From the early 1970s, government grants assisted Aboriginal people to return to live on their clan estates. The movement back to country became known as the “Outstation Movement” and was the impetus for the establishment of BAC. It remains a robust force today in many Aboriginal communities, but nowhere more so than in this region.

Bawinanga Aboriginal Corporation members and their families move freely between the town of Maningrida and their outstations. Some reside permanently on one of the 32 outstations that BAC services, while others move to Maningrida either seasonally or move permanently for employment, health or other reasons.

In the early 1980s however, there were very few employment opportunities for women in Maningrida. Bawinanga recognised this community need and established the Babbarra Women’s Centre.

Babbarra Designs

Babbarra Designs is the major activity at the Women’s Centre and has been in operation since 1989. The Maningrida region is one of immense cultural and linguistic diversity, with over 12 distinct Aboriginal languages being spoken in this relatively small area. The work of our textile artists depicts the landscape, dreaming stories, bush foods and bush crafts from their country in central Arnhem Land. The variation in subject matter reflects the cultural identity of women from the different language groups.

Babbarra artists have trained in a number of textile mediums, however, most specialise in handcrafted lino-tile and silk-screen printed fabric. The women produce lino-tile designs and print these on fabric with up to three layers of colour. Each piece of lino-fabric is unique with varying tile and colour combinations. The textiles artists also hand paint their lino-tiled fabric further enhancing the creativity of individual pieces.

Babbarra Designs print fine silk-screened fabrics from original artwork designs, and currently display over 30 screen print designs to choose from. All Babbarra Designs products are printed on a range of fabric and heat set in a professional fabric oven. There are 13 women who work in the Maningrida workshop, including a talented sewing team.

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