Waradgerie artist, Lorraine Connelly-Northey drifted away from her former government job to embrace and reconnect with the country of her mother and an Indigenous lifestyle. This meant exploring the Mallee and Riverina environments around her birthplace and coming face to face with the remnants of white domesticity and the displacement of her culture. Since beginning her artistic career in 1990, Connelly-Northey has brought weaving into a contemporary art practice and embraced the techniques and styles of her Indigenous heritage. As the artist has stated; “I want to be more than just a traditional weaver. I want to be a distinguished weaver with an instantly recognisable style and voice”.

Combining the crafts of her Indigenous mother (Lucy Williams-Connelly) and the collecting nature of her Irish father, Connelly-Northey re-interprets the traditions of Aboriginal weaving. Her mixed cultural heritage has informed much of her work, which questions the social and political environments within Australia. Instead of using traditional grasses and natural fibres in her works, the artist uses rusted wire, iron and the leftover scraps of the Australian environment. Connelly-Northey thus recreates and recycles the detritus of white settlement and colonial enterprises. These works are reminiscent of traditional Aboriginal cultures. She takes her knowledge of coil weaving and transforms it into a contemporary discipline, which embraces both her Irish and Aboriginal roots.

Connelly-Northey’s narbong (string bags) and kooliman (bowls) are taken directly from the Australian landscape and its forgotten fencing wire, rusted iron, rabbit proof fences, bedsprings and fly screens. The strength and rigidity of these materials are countered by the soft colours and textures of more traditional elements like galah and pelican feathers or echidna quills. The delicate nature of these materials compliments the bare history, brutality and humanity of the abandoned wire and metal. The works become post-colonial expressions and it has been said they “verge on abstraction” (Helen Bongiorno, November 2005) with their hard lines and reduced forms. The scale of her works is larger than tradition merits, but this serves to highlight the gestures of creation and true nature of the materials.

Connelly-Northey’s sculptural pieces have been collected by many art galleries and spaces throughout Australia, including the National Gallery of Victoria and the Art Gallery of NSW. In the decade since 2000, she has participated in many solo and group shows, including the 2010 'Sydney Biennale’ and the 2008 'Adelaide Festival’. Connelly-Northey’s success as an artist belies her lack of formal training, but highlights her intuitive and beautiful response to creating.

Connelly-Northey’s more recent works have explored the strong history of the possum skin cloak in Aboriginal society. These larger works still utilise the discarded metals that have become synonymous with Connelly-Northey’s practice, but in this instance they evoke the lost art of making possum skin cloaks which was an integral part of the lives of South-Eastern Indigenous Australians. Her cloaks reference this history, the many years of Aboriginal domesticity prior to white settlement, and the damage done since then. The thin forms, sparse holes and harsh materials used, are a reminder of the erosion of Aboriginal culture and the hard circumstances faced by Aboriginal peoples. They are a form of protection, now made sinister. One of Connelly-Northey’s cloaks was exhibited at the 10th Adelaide Biennale, ‘Handle with Care’ exhibition (2008).

By recreating these items and various dilly-bags and vessels throughout her career, Connelly-Northey is continuing a tradition and reaffirming the longevity of Aboriginal culture. She comes from a strong and vibrant history of weaving and there is a strong sense of recycling and reclaiming culture in everything that the artist creates. Connelly-Northey’s self-exploration and inherent skill allows her to select abandoned, useless and abused materials, giving them new lives, through workmanship and exhibition.


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