Indigenous artist and Griffith alumnus Delvene Cockatoo-Collins believes it is never too late to fulfil your dreams, after reconnecting with her arts practice later in life to great success.
She recently opened a new gallery and studio space at Minjerribah, also known as Stradbroke Island, where her arts practice is inspired from.
The respected artist has built an impressive body of work, with many people coming to know her talents during the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games, where her designs of the rare white whale Migaloo were featured on the commemorative medals, and in the opening ceremony.
“I look back, it wasn’t that long ago, and I just think what an amazing experience,” she said.
“You know, I couldn’t have planned anything better, for me to be invited in to present some designs and then for it to grow into other areas, from the costumes that the medal presenters wore to both medals, the prize winners and the commemorative, and then the Migaloo whale.
“That was really special to watch, and to also see the reaction of my family around me. I’d been to all the rehearsals and I’d seen him being inflated prior to the ceremony. So to see my 80-year-old Auntie be there for the actual opening and hear her, it was probably one of my highlights of the whole experience.”
The winner of Griffith Business School’s 2018 Outstanding First Peoples Alumnus Award graduated from a Bachelor of Arts (Leisure Management) and Bachelor of Tourism degree at Griffith University’s Mt Gravatt campus.
She says that grounding was crucial in helping her learn how to communicate her cultural stories through her art today.
“I was doing things a long time ago and then kids come along and then things change and you just stop doing things,” she said.
“And as they got a bit bigger, I’d come back home and then I was able to reignite that.
“All this material, all this going on around me. I need to make sense of it all.”
She says she is again making Migaloo whales in her Minjerribah studio, as the whale’s story continues to weave through her life and culture, celebrating the revival of whales in the region.
“That’s where that story about Migaloo in that opening ceremony kind of originated from. Sharing the joy of waiting and seeing his migration from down south to up north,” she said.
“Stradbroke is one of the best land-based whale watching in the world…whales are now back to pre-whaling numbers in their tens of thousands and they were down to about 600 when the whaling station was open on Moreton (Island).
“So, that joy is about the return of those numbers. So there’s a bit of hope in that as well.”
Today her new studio space overlooks the beautiful Moreton Bay which surrounds the island, and which is part of her traditional ancestral home. Delvene is a proud Nunukul, Ngugi and Goenpul woman, and her family are from Minjerribah (North Stradbroke Island and Moorgumpin) and Moreton Island – which are part of Quandamooka Country.
“I feel like I can look out there and just continue to smile because it’s just such a reminder of how beautiful this place is, and the reason why I live here and the reason why it’s been protected for so long, and that we continue to enjoy this place, because it’s right there in front of us,” she said.
She says her family and Quandamooka ties are vitally important to her continuing development as an artist.
Delvene’s art also serves to preserve and continue to tell the stories of her culture and country.
“This is one of those things of me making sense of stories that I’ve heard,” she explained.
“Through different people from my mother who heard it from her mother, and two of the Aunties talking about a mermaid in the Bay, and then me wanting to explore that.
“There are several records of a mermaid in the Bay. One’s Warrajamba, one’s Tangalooma, and how her blood was spilt on one of the beaches and that she’s a riddle and a conundrum.
“So, for us, that’s our way of telling stories. She created the redness in the sand on one of the beaches.
“My sister and I walked 10 kilometres and found that tinge of red. And this is where the story originates from. So you know, this kind of historical perspective as well as my Mum’s grandmother’s story makes sense of that.”
Hear more of Delvene’s story in the latest episode of Remarkable Tales.