Tjanpi Desert Weavers

Posted 25 Jan 18

I have become obsessed lately with the ways people create unique lifestyles through business.

The collective of women who make up the Tjanpi Desert Weavers live a lifestyle authentic to their desires and cultural values.

They haven’t had to move to a city to make an income for their families. They live on their traditional lands, moving between communities. They spend their days On Country, collecting weaving materials, passing down knowledge to future generations, laughing and creating. They prioritise Ceremony and other time commitments that Western style businesses don’t understand.

And isn’t this why most of us go into business? It runs deeper than “I want to be my own boss” – it’s about being in control of your own time, location and priorities.

Last year I visited Central Australia for the first time, and it was hot and it was beautiful.

Straight from the plane I headed to the Tjanpi Desert Weavers Gallery and was a little star struck, seeing on mass the woven works that I have only ever seen in major collections.

Tjanpi is run by the NPY’s Women’s Council. In November 1980 at Kanpi, South Australia, a core group of Pitjantjara women held a historical meeting. They were concerned that through the 1970s women’s voices were being sidelined in the land rights debate. As a result they joined forces with Ngaanyatjarra, Pitjantjatjara and Yankunytjatjara country women in the cross border region of South Australia, Western Australia and the Northern Territory to form their own organisation.Kanytjupayi Benson explains how the unique Tjanpi weaving style was created,“… our starting point was the manguri. This is the headring all us women used to carry things around on our head with… It was amazing how quickly we progressed from making those traditionally inspired objects to more unusual creations such as chickens and roosters. For me, it was a natural progression to go from making baskets to making dogs.”

I learnt an important lesson from my time researching and chatting with the team at Tjanapi and that is to never box yourself into one market.

The Tjanpi Desert Weavers famously won the Telstra Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award for their woven four-wheel drive but don’t confine their works to the fine arts market. They also produce smaller, affordable pieces for everyday arts lovers and tourists. And they collaborate, with companies like Koskela to make unique home wares.

This social enterprise, which has been running for 20 years, diversified it’s products, increased their market reach, while maintaining the creative authenticity that made them famous and can provide income for staff to live creative lives On Country.

That’s a business model to aspire to.

By Jirra Lulla Harvey