HomeSpectacular outback fashion show in Coolgardie features locally made clothes with Aboriginal designsArtSpectacular outback fashion show in Coolgardie features locally made clothes with Aboriginal designs

Spectacular outback fashion show in Coolgardie features locally made clothes with Aboriginal designs

Spectacular outback fashion show in Coolgardie features locally made clothes with Aboriginal designs

Jasyliah-Mae Thomas is a bit nervous and looks at her older sister for guidance. Spectacular outback fashion show in Coolgardie features locally made clothes with Aboriginal designs.

They have the same looks: long limbs, shiny black hair and big eyes, but Jorja-Rai’s smile is more confident.

She has done modelling before, and she knows all fears will melt under the lights of the catwalk.

Backstage between the clothes racks, nerves are mounting, as you would expect before any big fashion show.

We are not in Milan or Paris, but in the mining town of Coolgardie, 550 kilometres east of Perth in Western Australia’s Goldfields.

The Women’s Dreaming fashion show, organised by the Judumul Aboriginal Corporation, is about more than glamour.

The 38 garments, entirely produced in the small gold mining town, are inspired by the artworks of local Aboriginal women, and modelled by local girls.

From nerves to confidence

“I’ve just grown up wanting to be the centre of attention,” Jorja-Rai says.

“I do like that a lot about myself.”

The 16-year-old Wongatha girl from Kalgoorlie, 40km up the highway from Coolgardie, says modelling is empowering for young women.

“Just smile, and be yourself and be confident,” she tells her younger sister.

It resonates with Jasyliah-Mae, who has stepped off the catwalk feeling excited.

“I was nervous at first, but then when I went on stage it was fine, and nice,” she says.

For the sisters, who are learning about their culture from their nana, an Aboriginal artist, modelling these designs means showing not just their personality, but also their heritage to others.

On the catwalk, their culture is literally in the spotlight and “proud” is the adjective they both choose to describe the experience.

A fashion hub in the desert

Rose used to work in the town’s visitor centre. 

But when tourists stopped in Coolgardie — the first major town settled in WA’s 1890s gold rushes — and asked for local souvenirs, she had to disappoint them.

“We had to say we had nothing,” she says.

“And it was like, ‘OK, maybe I should start something!'”

Rose started off making stubby holders and tea towels, but a government grant made her dream of creating a Woman’s Dreaming collection in the small town achievable.

The Judumul Aboriginal Corporation used the funds to purchase a printing press and special computers and to upskill a team of sewers.

Tradie standing next to a big metal machinery.

A year later, the production process is entirely local: patterns from paintings created by Aboriginal artists in the region are digitised and printed on fabric at 200 degrees Celsius.

Rose cried when she saw her designs being showed off on the catwalk.

“It was scary, it was good, but I’m happy because I think they loved it,” she says.

A woman with blue hair talking in front of the models.

Small community, big effort

Community support was key in helping Rose’s dream come true. 

Local Indigenous artists from various groups worked together to create the designs.

FIFO workers and Kimberley girls studying at the Christian Aboriginal Parent-Directed School joined in as models and many have been helping out to make the local enterprise successful.

Even the town’s postmaster played his part, purchasing and wearing every single one of the new jersey designs coming out of the presses next door.

On the night, the local women who attended wearing heels and their best frocks were clapping enthusiastically.

A women claps with others.

Some could even see the mining town of Coolgardie becoming a fashion hub.

“Why not! Why couldn’t we be?,” one woman exclaims.

“We’ve got this!” her friend joins in.

Two women wearing brightly patterned dresses.

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