Sandra Conte

Sandra Conte.

Sandi and I meet at a local coffee shop, we get settled at our table with chai latte each and I ask the first question and am taken away, this is why I love doing this, I get lost in the conversation, her story flows. Sandi is incredibly open, honest, and generous, at some moments in the conversation the expressions on her face are of remembrance, fond and forgotten moments and achievement’s getting a voice. She is candid in sharing so much of her life experience, I get goose bumps.

Sandi from the age of 4 has had a love and passion for art, one of her first essays at school Sandi wrote that she dreamed of being either an artist or a pilot. She recounts to me an experience from her favourite class of the week at school. Art class.

“We were tasked with painting fire cracker night. I got my brushes and splayed them out to get the rippling effect and it was coming together and looking like I had found fire cracker night at the Nambour showgrounds. I was made an example of, I was told to put my brushes down, and stand in the corner of the class room for all art classes for the rest of the year, because, “look what this girl has done. That is not how you paint.”

Those teachers that terrified that little girl during Friday art class, didn’t squash her desire to make art, she refused to let their harsh voice define her passion for art.

“It doesn’t just block creativity when you have a person treat you like that. It blocks you in so many other ways, always second guessing”.

Sandi never did second guess her decision to chase her dream of being involved in the art world. Sandi’s parents worried that their daughter wouldn’t be able to make living from her creativity, and encouraged her to become a teacher. Studying initially in fine arts, leading Sandi to post-graduate studies in dress history and combining that with Queensland history.

“That allowed me with my post graduate studies to curate a dress historical exhibition. That was called “Dressed to kill, the impact of World War 2 on Queensland women’s dress 1935-1950”.

Sandi’s experience has allowed her to be offered multiple roles. Her work has taken her to approximately 5 different universities in an art capacity as a curator, director or freelancer. She has also worked with various local government authorities in the same capacity.

“I really just want to be around the arts. I think being a curator, it is a vicarious way of being involved. It’s voyeuristic. It’s like, ok I can work with artists, and I can still make a living. So I went into that field”.

Photo by Wild Honey Photography

She has travelled far and wide and held respected positions. Tandanya National Aboriginal Cultural Institute in Adelaide, is all indigenous owned and operated, and Sandi found this an interesting and privileged position to hold. She was in public relations at Central Queensland University answering directly to the vice chancellor, this position serviced a number of different campuses. Growth in her professional life, forced her to develop and move outside of some personal fears. Sandi, at the time didn’t hold a drivers licence as she feared she wouldn’t be a good driver. Within the first month in Rockhampton, Sandi as a passenger was involved in a car accident that nearly killed her. She decided during her recovery, she was no longer comfortable with someone else taking control of her transport. She was getting her license.

 

Intercultural activity has been critical, and central to Sandi’s professional career. While working as the PR person in Rockhampton, Sandi discovered the university held an art collection that was not being cared for or utilised in any way. Taking advantage of this art work Sandi set up in conjunction with the indigenous unit at the university at satellite gallery and launched this as part of NAIDOC week, this was the first indigenous exhibition and drew record crowds. It was called Colour my world.

“It was absolutely amazing, we had Archie Roach come up, where he performed a free concert. We bought people in from Woorabinda, and we went out and filmed some of Archie’s music”.

Sandi had the opportunity to work with Fred Hollows in Central Queensland.

“I mean he worked in Eritrea, but he also worked in our indigenous communities. He always spoke of “going away, to come back”.

Sandi’s whole being lights up, she sits straighter in her chair and her laugh is infectious with excitement when she speaks of some of the people that she has worked and flourished with, or has been influenced by.

“I remember my boss at Tandanya was Francesca Cubillo, she is now Senior Curator of: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art at the National Gallery of Australia. She is a Larrakia woman from up Darwin way. I remember her talking about particular works in the gallery space at Tandanya and how rich that desert area is, how rich with Indigenous heritage and culture Australia is. I mean she could look at an art work and tell you down to a fine hair exactly what it was, she would explain how rich the area was under all that red dirt. How it can sustain us, but, we don’t look beyond and we don’t have that cultural knowledge”.

“I am fascinated with the gender specific approach to making art, and find time and time again if you find a pairing of artists male and female, the male career takes off and the female is the supporter. Irrespective of if there is a parity or not with their particular talent. This is what was great about spending my week with Wendy Whiteley. Her visit was such a privilege. She is a strong beautiful woman. She is so articulate and has such wisdom in terms of the global art scene. She a wonderful thinker. I am fascinated by the role of the muse within the public and private life, but also like the power in front of the throne. I mean she is carrying that legacy so beautifully. I mean, Whiteley himself used to talk about the fact that she was possibly a better drawer than him. She was going to art school when she met him. I am a lover art that represents social change. Not all art is that. But, I think the power of art, and the momentous occasions when you step back and or when you’re standing in front of a canvas and you just get that feeling of; oh wow that has changed my way of thinking. I remember standing in the art gallery of New South Wales in front of a painting by Lloyd Rees, called Road to Berry and it had a line. It is referred to as an angelic line of sorts. I think that particular work/line changed Whiteley’s or impacted his thinking, I mean he made comment about it impacting him. You can look at his work, and think what would he have been without the drugs? But, he had the capacity to be receptive to other artists work. So I think it is the collaboration, the sharing of ideas in a healthy fashion that starts the world talking, thinking, changing”.

“Gauguin is my absolute favourite. Te Rerioa (The Dream), 1897. That painting sang to me. I am a deep, deep fan of Rosalie Gascoigne she came to art quiet late in life via Ikebana. I am fascinated by her story. She to me is like a bower bird, working with found objects and making meaning of them. My favourite author is Drusilla Modjeska, I got to meet her years ago and why she is so important to me is that I found my first love of reading through her when I was in my thirties. I remember discovering this book called Stravinsky’s Lunch. It is quite a weighty tome, and I remember getting up of a night and I would read for hours in the middle of the night, it was the only time I had to read. I couldn’t get enough of that book. That book was actually analyzing two female non-fictional artists who had lead very different lives. One who stayed in Australia and the other one who went overseas to find her calling”.

“I completely identify with Georgia O’Keefe, with being scared of everything in your life, I mean maybe it stems from that early start of always being anxious about everything and thinking you’re not good enough.

I also identify with her and just going ahead, and making a decision to just do it and the nay-sayers can say what they like, but this is really important to me, I am driven to do this. So make art – not war”.

Sandi held her own solo art exhibition at the age of 40. After spending time in Darwin and central Queensland visiting crocodile farms and being impacted by them, she became fascinated with the areas of environment and animals. It was called Sweet, skin, Suite and it was looking at crocodiles and body marking.

Sandi’s latest exhibition at the Logan regional gallery is, Bee-mindful. Focusing on bees, being human, empathy, how we all work together.

“I am always interested how art educates and the bees have been awareness raising. Yes it’s an environmental thing, certainly in terms of no bees, no me. The stingless native bees are so fascinating to me in terms of the intercultural aspects of that as well. Learn more wisdom, empathy. Yes, I am incredibly interested in what it means to be human, and where young people see where they fit into the world in regards to that.”

Sandi campaigns her eARTh e-mag, and how it was born from her realization that there was no platform for creatives to be recognized for their creative work, either working with, or for the environment.

“Social change can be made through art definitely. It can be person to person or it can be greater”.

“I suppose that is why the eARTh e-mag came into being. I was conscious that there were artists all over the world, who were working with, or for the environment and I want to give them air time and that is my way of contributing to the environment. I mean it is pretty hard for creatives, well not all, to get exposure, in the day and age of social media it’s a bit easier. But usually you are not the best advocate of your own work, so, that is where as a global platform we provide somewhere to talk about these artists who are changing the world and are inspiring others to do so. Its awareness and exposure. I see myself as a match maker in the art world. I love matching artists up to other creatives. I was talking to an artist recently and I automatically thought; oh, you need to meet this other person that I mentored years ago.  Oh, I love making those things happen. It’s seeing the opportunities and facilitating it. I love that, for me there is such joy in that. Community focussed projects are so important to me”.

At the close of our time together I asked Sandi what she was most proud of and what the word woman means to her.

“I have never been self-congratulatory. I always have this thought that I need to do better. So when there may have been markers in my life, say the dressed to kill exhibition or the solo exhibition. I never thought “oh I did it” it was always ok, on to the next thing. I haven’t had one of those moments. I just have so many more things to do”.

“Woman means invincible, we are here to stay”.

This interview was timed out at 55 minutes, there were no customers left sitting in what was an overflowing court yard, our coffee cups had been collected, and at the time it felt as though we only chatted for 10 minutes. Sandi is colourful and vibrant in her passion for creativity and the art world. This lady is a database of knowledge, depth and understanding. Indigenous art, the environment and animals will forever have a platform to be displayed creatively if Sandra Conte is involved, and it was such a pleasure to be an audience to her story.

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Bella

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boarding

(bɔːʳdɪŋ )

  1. uncountable noun

Boarding is an arrangement by which children live at school during the school term.

I left my boys with my sister and drove down the dirt road for my interview with Bella, these interviews that I organise have me anxious and out of my comfort zone every single time. I arrived at Bella’s home and after initial greetings, and quick catch ups with her parents over a flute of champagne, Bella and I got comfy in the lounge room for a chat.

The first question that I asked Bella was, “tell me what boarding school has been like for you?” This eloquently spoken 16 year old young lady started her story.

“I left home in 2013, as a year 8 student at St Hilda’s on the Gold Coast. It was my first time leaving home for longer than a week or two.”

“It was terrifying, boarding is terrifying, but, it has been amazing.”

I promised myself on the drive over that I wouldn’t get emotional. Well, that first sentence killed that promise. My nose started to run and my eyes misted over.

Sport, socialising and being active in the community is big part of the culture of living in the bush. Bella has built close friendships from being a team player as a young girl. As luck would have it she was introduced to her closest friend at a sporting carnival playing netball, and the girls went on to board together at St Hilda’s. There are not only rural and remote girls at the boarding school but a number from Papua New Guinea, Asia, and some prefer boarding over home.

She tells me about the process of being dropped off at her second home.

“For first time parents they are advised to leave a bit earlier so it doesn’t get too emotional. Our parents settle us in and then we head to the boarding house.”

The head of boarding and the boarding mums are at the school for the arrival of the girls to support them in getting settled. Helping the girls set up their new bedrooms, getting comfortable in their new surroundings. Bella is following in her mother’s footsteps at St Hilda’s. She was blessed to be allocated to the boarding mum that guided her mum, through the boarding years. The boarding mum also holds strong ties to the family. Bella’s granny nurtured Bella’s new boarding mum when she was a student at St Hilda’s.

“A boarding mum is a lady that comes to work and looks after boarding girls, they are so kind. I had her in year 8, I was her granddaughter and she loved me the whole way through. So when I finished year 8, I moved boarding house and she moved with me – she was with me for the next two years. I then moved again and now she is looking after my sister. When I started, I mean we were the babies, we are their babies, the babies of the school. These ladies are our mums while we are school. They are a big part of us, I mean we spend more time boarding than we do at home. So they become very special to us.”

“They looked after us through it all. We were naughty, but god they love us.”

Tears are now flowing freely down my face. For Bella, knowing that this young woman is so loved by so many strong women. For her mother for being so courageous and dedicated to her daughter, her education, and growth and sharing her child with another woman that Bella loves so much. And the boarding mum, what a special lady to devote her life to opening up her heart to loving and helping raise teenager girls so far from home.

“As a year 12 girl I get an individual room. They are very nice. The mums come around at 7am and wake us all up. Breakfast is 7.15am so we get dressed and ready to go to breakfast or we can make brekky in the boarding house. We usually just sit and have time with the mums in the morning, watch the news, get ready and then off to school. After school is where we go and do co-curricular activities or tutoring if we have to, otherwise we just go back to our room and do whatever we want until 5.00pm. Prep is at 5.00pm, so we study time until 6.10pm and then go for our dinner sitting, 6.40pm we have prep until 8.30pm. We can study in our rooms or they provide tutors in the boarding house. Most of them are old St Hilda’s girls as well, they come up we chat and study. From 8.30pm is for showering, studying or visiting friends in their rooms. It’s just like home you go around and chat to the mums, chat to your sisters.”

Bella acknowledges the social skills she has developed from being a boarder, she tells me about the situations faced by boarders that sometimes are out of their comfort zone, and what she has learnt from that.

“Every term we change rooms, you find when you’re living beside different people you become better friends with them. A few years ago I was put beside this girl and I was like, “oh no, I do not want to be beside her”, but by the end of the term we were really good friends.”

I have to laugh at little when she is telling me about the deep friendships that are forged in the boarding house. She makes it sound like a five year slumber party with your besties.

“It’s so much easier in boarding to make friends. I mean everyone is your sister we are so open and comfortable with everyone, maybe a little too comfortable. We are always talking to people, always with people, you just get so much confidence. Best part of boarding is just always being with your friends. In the end you are boarding more than you are at home and they are your second family, they just mean so much to you. I mean we can go out on leave on the weekends, but sometimes you just want to say home and hang with your girls. I have boarded for five years and yeah this is my last year. So daunting. I mean I am not going to see all of those girls every day and it is going so fast. I mean crazy fast, and scary knowing it’s nearly over. The whole time you think:

“Oh gosh I want to get out of here”. But now, its like, “oh no! I am getting out of here soon”.

And with friendships established with the girls you live with, you also build relationships with their family. The girls are “allowed out on leave” every weekend. There are a couple of weekends a term that are dedicated to the families and them spending time together.

“I mean, for all the times that mum and dad have come down I don’t remember a time that we just had us as a family. We always take out my sister’s friends or my friends, if they are stuck in. My really good friend, her mum lives in Western Australia so every time mum and dad come down we take her out.”

Bella compares going out on leave to see her parents with the feeling little kids get on Christmas Eve. “Oh yeah, it’s like I can’t wait to see them, I mean we only see them a few times during the term”.

Then for the families the routine of drop off and settling in to school is repeated. Drop off at school, mums and sisters are allowed up to the rooms for settling in, but being a girl’s boarding house, dads can’t go in. Bella tells me, most of the parents sign their girls in at reception, the girls catch up with friends before starting their school routine again. Obviously this is easier on some than others.

“Lucky for me I get to see mine every few weeks, which is very nice. I can also go over and see my sisters in their boarding houses whenever I want, and they can always come and see me.”

Bella participates in a new initiative for the school. She has taken on additional “sisters”. The program starts before the little girls arrive at the school some starting in year 6. Year 12 students connect with them by sending Christmas cards and wishing them a happy new year. On arrival at the school the big sisters look after the little ones, help them with the settling in, they help with homework, and offer support when boarding is overwhelming. Bella is positive that this new programme has helped the little girls greatly.

“I know my first year we all thought we were pretty tough and would hold back the crying. You always end up crying. All you want to do is go home see your family, god, even see the dog. We never had any older girls to help us get through it. Oh, those older girls for me where so scary, they were so big and we were so little. By doing this we are breaking that, we are good friends with them, and both of my buddies are good friends with my sister.”

She is home now for the school holidays, I ask her what it was like this time coming home.

“It’s is so good, so amazing to come home. I mean everything changes. Last time when I was home everything was green, but on the turn to brown. But I got here the other day and there is knee high green grass and we have puppies”.

“I mean and coming home to mum and dad and my youngest sister, oh, it’s everything”.

She goes on to tell me that she hasn’t always been positive and accepting of her life of having to live away from her family to receive an education.

“I am ok now with going away, but in year 9 I threw the biggest tantrum. I was not going back to school. I was not going back to boarding. There was nothing worse. So I just refused. I was just like “nope, I am not going back”. But yeah, year 9 was my worst year. Year 8 is so surreal, so new and exciting. Year 9, I knew what to expect, I knew what was going to happen and I was just like nope, I won’t be leaving mum and dad and my sisters. It was terrible. Eventually, I got in the car and I was taken back. Year 10 was so much fun.”

Year 10 for Bella was not only receiving an education from the school but from travelling the world. Bella an active student at St Hilda’s participates in sport, the adoption of little sisters, and she also represented the school in an exchange program to Holland for six weeks.

“It was the absolute best experience. I had never travelled overseas before, and then I ended up going to Holland living there for six weeks, oh amazing. I was really keen to travel everywhere when I got home from Holland. But now I just love being home. Australia is the best.”

In her last year at school, having made the most of her experiences as a boarder and in her education Bella has completed a hospitality and barista certificate and responsible service of alcohol certificate. She is currently working on her certificate three in childcare and works at the St Hilda’s day care centre with the pre-preps. So what is happening next year?

“Next year I will hopefully go north, maybe the Kimberley’s and either go jillarooing or governessing for a couple of years. I want to eventually go to the Marcus Oldham College”.

This portrait was a difficult piece to create as openly as I normally write. When I was crafting this piece I didn’t simply have Belle to think of. But her parents were taping away at my heart as well, that was the prickly part. I wanted the story from the mouth of the daughter that lives this experience. I wanted this interview and this story because I bow down to the parents that share their pre-teens and teens with a second family so generously. A big thank you to Bella and her Mumma, love you both for sharing your unique story.

If you love reading this and would like to read more interviews. Why not back me financially? I am creating a platform for me to showcase my best work, build a community and get paid to keep on creating. The more patrons in our community means more interviews, and more stories. A portion of this money will be used to pay it forward, sharing the love with other women and girls and raising their voice.

Gin Rummy Vintage

Yesterday scrolling through Instagram I found a local treasure and I went to visit Mel at Gin Rummy vintage today.  I remember when I was little it was a treat to get into mum’s cupboard with all her clothes and jewellery and the shoes (there is photo evidence of me somewhere actually in mum’s clothes). Well Gin Rummy is like a massive walk-in wardrobe that I didn’t want to leave – like literally. I met Mel this morning and told her I would come back soon and not just to add to the four treasures I found, but with a coffee. Anyone that knows me, knows that is not how I roll. But hanging out in what Mel said to me was like an extension of her home and chatting to her, trying on some of her gorgeous pieces, was such fun. So here is what the local Mumma of two told me about her business.

It is a lifelong obsession basically with dressing up, fabrics, old things and mending and making do. It is a collision of all of the things I love coming together.

I had seen the studios were available for years and always thought what a lovely thing to do. But what would I do. I started with selling jewellery and handmade accessories on line, it is a challenge and then I realised that I had this collection of clothes that were essentially things that I couldn’t leave behind. I am not a hoarder, I am a collector. I saw the hub was calling for expressions of interest and I thought, oh what the hell.  The last day before the offer closed, I stayed up until midnight writing a business plan. Then they loved my interview. I came along with my suitcase full of random things and started pulling them out and the panel were just like  – go for it.

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My prices range from $3.00 to $200.00 depending on the rarity, I have things from all over the world and brands and collections. It depends on the day which piece I love the most, they are like my children, the fabrics talk to me, and the colours fill up your eyes and gives me such joy. There are so many stories to vintage clothes, have they been cut up? Have they been mended? Did someone love them intensely? Did they die? Where have they been worn? I look at them and try and tease out the story. If I get the story, behind you know – say the vintage dress that someone gives to me and tells me the story of it that is just like oooohhhhh gold.

Word of mouth has been pretty powerful, I have a nook upstairs in the foyer, which has been great for directing people and social media is gold (ginrummyvintage). I am here daily 10.00am-3.00pm and Saturday by appointment only. I will be here till November. I am getting new pieces all the time, I am always on the hunt.

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I was taking photos of the shop and watched this beauty in action. A lady had been at the gallery on the top floor, and was told about Gin Rummy and come for a look. See, she is going to the theatre to see 1984 by George Orwell at QPAC and she was on the hunt for something to wear. She found a magnificent black cape. As Mel was listening to the story of where this piece is going to be worn, she started to cry with joy. She was so thrilled that the lady had the perfect place for it to be worn and how stunning it looked.

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You can find Gin Rummy Vintage at the Caboolture Hub – Studio 3 / 4 Hasking Street Caboolture.