Delvene Cockatoo-Collins on the importance of generations of family legacy to her art

  
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Today’s Streets of Your Town podcast goes to North Stradbroke Island in the sparkling jewel that is Moreton Bay in Queensland’s south-east.

You can bliss out listening to the waves lapping at my feet as I interview incredible artist Delvene Cockatoo-Collins. Just click on the play link above.

While this patch of paradise is known as “Straddie” to some, to the Quandamooka Aboriginal people, who have a connection to the island going back more than 20,000 years, it is known it as Minjerribah, meaning “island in the sun”.

Delvene Cockatoo-Collins is a First Nations artist based here, like generations of her family before her.

“I think I’m only able to do what I do because of the legacy from my family,” she says.

“And from the broader community there is this sense of independence here. There is a strong cultural practice and history. And it all greatly impacts and supports my arts practice.”

Her works are now sold around the world and were featured in designs for the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games medals, and her representation of the white whale Migaloo floating high above the audience in the opening ceremony.

Delvene is exhibiting at the Dubai Expo 2020, which was delayed a year because of Covid.

“My work will have that first time international presence,” she says.

“This fibre would’ve been used to make dugong nets. There are the baskets made out of the freshwater reed. We don’t really share where that is grown.

“So that movie with Tom Hanks, Castaway, he’s used this fibre as a survival mechanism. When you know how to retrieve, harvest fibres, (and) make twine, you can build a raft. You can make baskets, you can make rope, or you can make nets.”

You will hear part of a walking tour Delvene takes me on in the podcast. Delvene hosts these tours regularly for people keen to get a First Nations perspective of important artistic and cultural sites that are often overlooked, such as this mural on the wall outside of the North Stradbroke Island Aboriginal and Islanders Housing Co-operative Society—painted by none other than renowned author and poet Oodgeroo Noonuccal (or Aunty Kath Walker).

We start our conversation for Streets of Your Town on the beach under the Cotton Trees near Dunwich, known as Goompi to the Quandamooka people, where Delvene finds many of the materials she uses in her evolving arts practice.

“This beautiful salt water that we’re looking at now always offers so much, and I’m very grateful for that,” Delvene says.

“There’s places to stop to look, reflect and listen.

“This cotton tree has lovely shade. It’s a playground because of the low-lying branches you often find kids playing in here, but it’s also a tree that’s found right across the Pacific and many of us use it for the same purpose and that is for twine making so it’s a beautiful inner bark that is removed to make a rope type of fibre. And also the long straight branches are used for spears.

“It’s something that unites communities across the Pacific.

"It’s a tree that keeps giving. For me it’s magic really.”

She also shares some of her stories handed down to her by her ancestors, such as how Aboriginal people from throughout the islands in Moreton Bay were close enough to communicate to each other.

“Mulgumpin (Moreton Island), we know it was close enough that our people could communicate with each other. So that passage has widened over time and it is quite rough through there. But we know our people came across,” Delvene says.

“When you look at it, moving across water is as straight forward as moving across land. You just need the right capacity or way of moving.”

Behind the Scenes

I hope you’ll agree with me that listening to Delvene teach how to weave twine from cotton tree fibre is pretty meditative!

You’ve only got to see this pretty relaxed shot of me under the cotton trees to see that! A rare contemplative moment!

Or perhaps just chill for a minute while listening to those waves and watching that weaving movement in this beautiful little slideshow video that Delvene shot on the day.

It’s a beautiful way to spend a day—going out on a day trip to Minjerribah from Cleveland on the ferry, and wandering around with an internationally renowned First Nations artist to see places and hear stories you would never have access to otherwise.

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This week was pretty significant for me in that it was the annual Queensland Media Awards—known as The Clarions—and a story I helped out on was honoured with the Clarion for Best Radio Documentary and Podcast.

You can listen to this important story here:

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For more

Read more about Delvene’s work, see and listen to the back catalogue of Streets of Your Town episodes and learn more about my work as The Wandering Journo at the Streets of Your Town website at https://soyt.substack.com.

And you can see and read more about Delvene’s work at her website https://cockatoocollins.com.


Streets of your Town podcast would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians on whose land this story was gathered.

I acknowledge that for tens of thousand of years Our First Nations people have walked this country and shared stories on this great land down under, and I walk in their footsteps today.

I pay my respects to their Elders, past, present and emerging.