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Sending Gillawarra culture to the world, from the kitchen table

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Three Aboriginal women stand behind a table covered in handmade products including necklaces and earrings. Behind them are posters with the words Gillawarra Arts on one and Gift of Our E on the other.
Kimia Alberts, Krystal Hurst and Angie Davis are Gillawarra Arts (Photo courtesy of Allison Lee Photography)
17 May 2018

Preserving and sharing her culture motivates Krystal Hurst to dream big and work hard.

Krystal, a Worimi woman, is owner/manager of Gillawarra Arts, a Canberra based business that creates jewellery pieces using echidna quills, colourful kelp banded shells and glass beads.

Krystal and her co-workers Kimia Alberts and Angie Davis also use pippies (shells), quandongs (native peach) and natural fibres to create stunning necklaces, earrings and bracelets.

Working at her kitchen table or ‘arts room’ as she calls it, Krystal is carrying on a family tradition.

‘My parents began Gillawarra Arts in 1983 in Taree [NSW] in our backyard shed,’ Krystal said.

‘Mob would come over to make furniture, paint and share skills. Now I feel a responsibility to continue this initiative and share our culture with the world.’

Creating the pieces is one thing. Sourcing the items is another, requiring much time and effort.

‘As we are based in the ACT, it’s difficult to source particular items,’ Krystal said.

‘Our quandongs are sourced from South Australia, shells from Country in Forster, NSW and other shells from Saltwater National park, our traditional camping area.’

‘Sometimes it’s opportunistic. My dad would pick up echidnas from the side of the road and we would process and take care of them.’ (Echidnas regularly shed their quills).

Creating new designs requires planning, experimentation and especially, new ideas.

‘I source my inspiration from freshwater and sea Country, my culture and heritage, as well as how I sense and feel the world. It’s a practice that is very relaxing and healing,’ Krystal said.

Krystal works full-time on the business. This includes managing the Gillawarra Arts Etsy shop and marketing her products through other social media platforms. She runs jewellery-making workshops and paints murals and artworks with a contemporary look and feel.

‘We are dreaming big,’ Krystal said.

‘We are excited to see our venture grow and reach more people. We are looking at launching a few initiatives as I believe so strongly in developing Indigenous economies, so watch this space!’

‘I had always hoped our jewellery would inspire, give strength and empower women and men as well.’

‘We hope to spend more time [in workshops] with Indigenous women and young girls to share and exchange knowledge and skills as it’s something our Old People did, so we need to continue old and new stories and practices.’

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The Indigenous Business Sector plays a critical role in providing jobs for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

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