Mia Donnet-Jones, Studio Manager in the heart of the Kimberley
Mia is the Studio Manager at Marnin Studio in Fitzroy Crossing, a therapeutic healing space where local women come to create, learn and relax. I met Mia during one of my stays up in Fitzroy Crossing and was instantly intrigued by this incredible women. She is so dedicated to her job, and gives 100% of herself to what she does up there. Seeing her work so closely with the artists and the connections that she has built is so beautiful. Mia is authentically herself and it's this authenticity that makes her the perfect person to do what she does.
She has been kind enough to share how she ended up in FX, why she thinks authenticity is so important and more. As always I hope this inspires you and is a great start to your week!
Mia at the print table at Marnin Studios
Could you tell us how you ended up in this role and why you love what you do?
Other than a quick trip to Perth as a child I had never been to Western Australia, and certainly never imagined I would end up living in the Kimberley. Maybe it was the Tasmanian winter that year, because in 2017, I made a spontaneous decision to visit some family in Fitzroy Crossing for a few days. After 3 flights and a 4hour long drive in land from Broome, I arrived in Fitzroy Crossing. I had been told about a little design studio of local Aboriginal women and decided to pop in to have a look. I found this studio in the incredible lush gardens of the Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre in a little shed. Inside I was welcomed by a bunch of women sitting around a table painting boab nuts and slowly stitching woollen bush toys. After talking to the women, they learned I had done some hand stitching myself and I was invited back the next day to teach them a few of my stitches. So, I came in the next day…and the next day, and the next day, and next thing I knew I was working and living here full time, and have been ever since. They do say here that once you swim in the Fitzroy River, you will always come back. I don’t know if it’s the river, or the people, or the community, but there is something here that people just fall in love with and I have definitely fallen in love with it!
One of the prints by Phyllis Waye, a Artist at Marnin Studio
You are a Melbourne born girl who grew up in Tasmania and now live in Fitzroy Crossing in the middle of the Kimberley’s. How would you describe the difference between living in a big town and now in a remote community?
I love both spaces! Of course there are pros and cons to living in both. It’s really a cliché. In the city, you have everything you need right there, shops, services, jobs, events, but it is in the country, where less is more, that you build stronger connections with your environment, the community and the people around you. I have so many people who come to Fitzroy Crossing to do short stints of work and they often say they have a much busier social life here than back home in the cities. There aren’t many people and there isn’t much to do, so we all make sure we meet each other and make things to do!
The lack of accessibility in rural and remote areas is a very real issue though. Everything takes longer, everything costs more, everything’s just harder. There’s slow or no internet, power outages, no banks or other amenities, limited medical services, some of the highest temperatures in the country, and over the wet season, road access is limited by flooding with the entire town cut off at times. For a community of over 3000 people I had expected more. You would think that the digital age would aid some of these challenges, but it’s clear many people are simply being left behind, left outside some of the systems supposed to support them. I recently saw an article by the WA Minister for Indigenous Affairs, Ben Wyatt, who put it quite succinctly. ‘[Upon] visiting these communities I was struck by an overwhelming sense that people are disempowered and punished by a digital world of faceless and distant bureaucratic controllers.’ Titled They haven’t the remotest idea, it’s a good little read. Also the documentary, Undermined, is definitely worth watching.
Some of these practicalities clearly create disadvantage for remote towns, but there are many more, perhaps less obvious, that perpetuate poverty, inequality and disempowerment particularly for Indigenous people. It has really shocked me how different things are here and what’s more, how little most Australians know of it. There is a real disconnect between metropolitan and rural areas, let alone remote areas. There is a whole other world that most people have no idea about. I would love to see Australia reconnecting with itself, to see people taking the time to explore the rest of their own country.
Looking out into the Dessert from Djugerari, a community about 100km out from Fitzroy Crossing
You are quite an inspiring women, and I love how authentically you are. I remember when I first met you, in the middle of the Kimberley’s you had these insane long nails, some amazing home made bling and you were glammed up. Why do you think Authenticity is so important?
Well look, I would’ve dressed the part for the Kimberleys but I just can’t do thongs and paisley cowgirl shirts…
Nah, really, I find power in these things, in clothes, makeup, jewellery. I love statement pieces; I love taking me time when I put on makeup. I love the process of getting ready. It’s not just physical but psychological too.
I love people just being themselves, whatever that is and whatever it looks like. Everyone does it all the time, but we need to refrain from judging people by how they look. Yes, I brought my killer shiny nails to the Kimberley, if anyone was judging, I hope they were pleasantly surprised!
I know running a small business can be hard, stressful, painful and extremely scary, but it can also be incredibly rewarding, exciting and fill you with such proud moments. Could you share some of these moments you have experience through your journey managing the Marnin Studio?
There are definitely ups and downs in any business and this is certainly no different. Marnin Studio is a social business, our mission is to provide a safe space for women and girls to come, to connect and create together. We provide the opportunity for financial stability through selling the products they create and have remaining profits grow the studio for more people to access. Fitzroy Crossing has a very complex and traumatic history so it is never easy working in this space. The hard stuff is exactly why we are here and why this kind of business is so important. Fortunately, I have an amazing team of colleagues and supporters, and the designers are like my FX family.
On a national level there seems to be a growing appreciation for Indigenous arts and cultures and this is really exciting to see and feel. It is a growing industry that is slowly weeding out the unethical operators and ensuring that it is Indigenous people and their communities that see the benefits. But its my time with the designers that is most exciting and rewarding for me. It’s knowing each woman and girl. Its hearing their stories, knowing some of their struggles, seeing their incredible strength, their patience and compassion. Seeing them save up for something they really need, seeing their pride when they make a new block print, seeing them realise they can learn something new, seeing them when they make a bloody outstanding bush toy! It’s seeing the healing from trauma and their growing hope of living happier healthier lives, and sometimes that’s as simple as being able to talk or laugh again. These changes take a long time but they are the changes that will transform this community.
Getting nuts ready to create into something special
Not only do you manage a studio you are also an artist yourself. What kind of art do you love creating and do you think its important for people to have a creative outlet?
I think it’s so important to have some sort of creative outlet whether its art, cooking, gardening, music, or constantly rearranging the furniture in your home! Things that just have you thinking, experimenting and getting all those nice satisfaction feelings or just some mindfulness time. But I also feel its very important to think creatively in everything we do, as individuals and collectively. To use the creative process, constantly thinking and rethinking how things work, how they should work, how they could work. Explore the possibilities. I find creativity in pretty much everything I do, but I am particularly interested in anything social, the socially constructed world! Some things I make for the process, for the satisfaction of making something interesting or beautiful, while at other times I use creativity to communicate and rethink concepts or reality. This might be through physical art objects or in everyday life.
Do you have a morning routine? If so, what is it you do to set yourself up for the day ahead?
When I lived with my sister she could tell you all about my morning routine. She’d hear alarms go off for an hour or so, then 10 minutes before work, a big thump, some thrashing, my door swing open, and few seconds later the front door slam. That is more or less my morning routine… if I’m really on my game, I can squeeze in a dash of makeup or a coffee. It’s something I need to work on…
Beautiful termite mounds around Fitzroy Crossing
Living in a remote community you are exposed to a lot of things that many Australians have never experienced. Australia has quite a dark history and you are playing a wonderful role in trying to create a more hopeful and bright future. How do you think more Australians can participate in this change?
What do we need to do to try and steer Australia do a more accepting and equal future for our first nation people?
Firstly, it’s important to really listen to our first nations people, they know the issues, they know what they want and they know how to do it. However, right now, we do not need another consultation process, advisory group, working group, or whatever the federal government proposes next, Indigenous peoples have been jumping through Government hoops for decades. It really comes down to how seriously white Australia and the Government take Indigenous voices and what Indigenous-led progress we are willing to permit, even in something as simple as Constitutional recognition. For me, as a non-indigenous person, we need to start here, with constitutional recognition, national truth telling and education about our own country. It is not something we are exposed to or learn about and it is exactly what underpins ignorance, racism and the structural inequalities that exist.
Of course there is the national social and political picture, but things need to change now, and I think it’s actually the private sector and individual people that are making the most change. For individuals, learn the Indigenous history of the land you live on, find the Indigenous-led spaces and events in your area, travel Australia next time you have a holiday, do business and buy from Indigenous-run enterprises and if you really want to do something right now… hold a fundraiser or donate money to an Aboriginal organisation… like us! Marnin Studio at Marninwarntikura Women’s Resource Centre! Or come up to the Kimberley and volunteer with us!
Is there anything in the works at Marnin Studio that you can share? Something exciting?
Well for everyone in Melbourne it’s time to grab your tickets to our partner program, Design Within Country’s fashion show at Virgin Australian Melbourne Fashion week in March 2020. You can grab a ticket HERE
For the studio we have a range of exciting collaborations coming up. We will be preparing for the usual events that fill our calendar like Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair and Tarnanthi Festival in Adelaide. But without saying too much at this point, 2020 will be a big year for Marnin Studio, lots of exciting changes to make this work accessible to many more in our communities. Watch this space!
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Wow… I have received so much great advice from so many great people. If fact, I think the best piece of advice I have ever received is ‘surround yourself with good people!’. I am very lucky to have a whole team of amazing, compassionate, intelligent and creative friends, family and colleagues.
…and also, to just chill out, not be so hard on myself. That’s a good one too.
What is your favourite piece from the new range and why?
The matching smooth rib skirt and tank! Love this little set, so easy and so comfy, and how can I not love the scrunchies by you and Jelaynah!!
You can learn more about Marnin Studio via their website HERE
and make sure to follow their adventures on instagram HERE
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