Over three decades, this company has transformed Australian design

Emily Kame Kngwarreye 787-9 Dreamliner photo courtesy of QANTAS.

Ros Moriarty, the managing director of Indigenous design and strategy studio Balarinji, has been selected as a finalist for the Women in Design Award 2019.

Ms Moriarty has been recognised for her work assisting the integration of Indigenous design into areas such as public art, urban regeneration and infrastructure.

One of sixty women nominated for the award, Ms Moriarty said when she started Balarinji in 1983, the design world was quite different.

“[When] … we started there really wasn’t any interest in anything Indigenous … whether that was design, or performance, or the arts in general. I think that has changed hugely,” said Ms Moriarty.

“We began the studio back in 1983 when our first child was born … John and I had our first child, a son, who was a Yanyuwa child with his heritage deeply in the NT. But he was born in Melbourne, so we put silk screens of turtles onto his bed linen and curtains to remind him [of his heritage] …”

“John is a Yanyuwa man who was born in the Gulf of Carpentaria, to an Aboriginal mother and an Irish father, before he was taken away as part of the Stolen Generations at the age of four. I was born in Tasmania. I guess we are kind of a reconciliation story of our own within our family.”

Balarinji has worked on projects such as the latest Qantas 787 Dreamliner, designing Aboriginal-themed uniforms for Rio 2016 Paralympians, and lighting up the sails of the Sydney Opera House.

The company has engaged communities as well as cultural and family groups in its work for Sydney’s Metro and Sydney’s M12 motorway. The idea is to facilitate the Aboriginal voice that speaks for that place. Ms Moriarty said this is something the company has always done.

“For us, working all around Australia and providing that voice to give visibility to the Aboriginal narrative that is local to place—in deep partnership with the actual people who have the authority to speak for that place—is really the philosophy.”

Also core to the philosophy is employment and renumeration for Indigenous people.

“We are looking to continue our relationships and provide best practice and best market remuneration for people for their intellectual property to be protected … [and] for a new sense of value to be returned to Indigenous Australians involved in design and the arts.”

“I think it makes for richer places for the whole community—that’s the value proposition. It’s what government and commercial clients need to know because it’s not just about being the right thing to do, of course it’s the right thing to do, and of course there are social justice outcomes from it. More deeply, it’s about acknowledging that the Aboriginal story is not only about colonisation, dispossession and social justice. It is also about that deeper spiritual, cultural story that is part of Australia’s heritage.”

By Rachael Knowles

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