Old Way/New Way

Old way/New way: Telling Ntaria stories was developed in collaboration with the Hermannsburg Potters, Ntaria School, Dr Nicola St John, and the Tjuwanpa Outstation Resource Centre. Funded by Strong Communities for Children, Australian Government, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, this project established a youth-led design enterprise within the Hermannsburg Potters. Through digital illustrations and their application onto a range of printed merchandise, Ntaria students reinforced their contemporary cultural identities through new technologies, instilling a sense of pride, respect and a powerful youth voice.


Project beginnings

This project sought to embed meaning and identity through local, on-country, and cultural based learning through the Hermannsburg Potters and the Senior Students at Ntaria School. Elders and parents have spoken about the loss of respect for others in their families and the community. The senior potters state that telling stories can bring young people into a safe cultural environment with their family elders. This builds respect, relationships and knowledge of who they are.

‘The world is changing … Years back we used to sit with grandparents around the fire and they used to tell people stories about when they were young. Now they don’t do that anymore.’

‘We don’t want to lose our culture. We want to keep it strong.’

The aim of this program was to create a supportive environment for the students to explore visual art and design outcomes and to foster creative development and employment pathways.

There are a growing number of researchers who point to meaningful cultural activities and employment as the key to improving young people’s lives in their home communities (Brooks, 2011; Tonkinson, 2011). Tonkinson points to their capacity to endure hardship, to innovate and be resilient that will ultimately enable young indigenous people ‘to forge new and rewarding paths to fulfilment in the greatly changed world they inhabit’ (2011, p. 234).

Young people in Aboriginal communities live in a very different world to that of their parents. They act as intermediaries between old knowledge and new ways, particularly through new technology. This offers new forms of learning and new sites of cultural production. Enabling young people to reimagine their futures. Technology engages young people in meaningful, productive activities, skills development and arts practice.

Research also shows there is a strong link between the maintenance of Indigenous knowledge and identity, tied with Indigenous social and emotional wellbeing (Bainbridge et al., 2001, Al-Yaman and Higgens, 2011, Carson et al., 2007). The institute of Family Studies has also found that strong relationships between elders and children help children understand the practical aspects of life and society.

These studies suggest that by engaging young people in a fun and safe environment, which also strengthens intergenerational relationships and traditional knowledge transfer, the project can impact on young people’s social and emotional wellbeing.



The Project

The project utilised designing a range of merchandise to teach local history, Western Arranda identity, literacy and numeracy to a group of 20 male and female VET students from Ntaria School over a five week workshop program. The potters helped the students through telling culture stories, and assisting with drawing skills.The students leant new ways of drawing though digital tools, while being told about the old ways by the Potters. This worked to increase their digital literacy, while maintaining cultural storytelling through visual arts. Working together builds important relationships and showed the students what is involved in a career in creative practice.

The students developed a micro-enterprise around selling their products, as a dedicated arm of the Hermannsburg Potters. The Potters can then provide opportunities for the students to sell their work through profession Art Markets, held in Darwin and Alice Springs.



Project outcomes:

Through digital illustrations and their application onto a range of printed merchandise, students reinforced their contemporary cultural identities through new technologies, instilling a sense of pride, respect and a powerful youth voice. Through the workshops, students discovered what impact art and design could have in Ntaria, and the potential of design and merchandise to create future employment and enterprise opportunities within the community.

The process of image production reinforces identity and strengthens agency and cultural pride in young people. Through weekly self-reflection surveys, students’ emotional wellbeing, pride in their work and their attitudes in class was tracked throughout the project. At the beginning of the workshops only 2 students expressed that their work was something they were proud of and would be keen to show it to a large audience.

Through observations in class, it was clear that throughout the series of design workshops, and their work with the Potters, students developed their confidence and self-esteem. Talking about their work and receiving praise and support from Western Arrarnta artists  helped students strengthen their relationship and knowledge that their work could be turned into saleable, contemporary items. At the end of the program roughly 90% of participants expressed that they were extremely proud of their work and they would be proud to show their work to a large audience.

Working with the Potters also reduced the sense of  ‘shame’ some students experience showing their work at the beginning of the program. Working with the senior women also created a sense of calm in the classroom, particularly when students were working with a family member.

The establishment of a revolving enterprise fund will mean this project can move forward in a self-sufficient manner, without any further external financial support. Funds will be generated for the student designers (licensing fee) and for the Potters to continue to mentor the students. Payments to students will occur when new merchandise is printed, with the sales profits allowing for more work to be printed in an ongoing manner. This revolving fund has the potential to generate substantial income for the students and the Hermannsburg Potters.




Key learnings

  • Designing and creating merchandise allows students to explore their identity in contemporary ways. Although the move to settlement life in Ntaria has meant less connection with country and with the adults who traditionally taught young people about their country, students are reinvigorating their traditional knowledge through new creative applications. The majority of students all told Ntaria stories through their design work and often used traditional iconography, drew local bush foods and landscapes to represent things that were important to them.
  • The project linked Western Arrarnta identity and relationships to employment pathways, making it more likely that students will continue to engage in merchandise and sales initiatives in conjunction with the Hermannsburg Potters.
  • Creating merchandise and working together with senior women from the Potters supported Western Arrarnta language development as stories were shared in language within the classroom environment. This also fostered relationships between young people and their elders, that in turn, promoted intergenerational learning, and helped students calm down and concentrate in the classroom.
  • The workshops fostered confidence and pride in the young students through feedback from the Potters, showcasing their talents to the broader community and selecting their work to sell. It is hoped students’ emotional wellbeing and pride in their work will further increase once the merchandise is printed and sales are generated.