It’s been a huge couple of years for the young Wodi Wodi woman of the Yuin Nation. After graduating Year 12 in 2019, she completed her Certificate 3 in Conservation and Land Management at TAFE and is now studying her Certificate 3 in Guiding and Indigenous Tourism. In 2020, the Y commissioned Allirra to create the artwork for a project aimed at ensuring all children are safe and feel safe at the Y, in their homes and in their communities.
Allirra grew up on the Central Coast, but her home is the Wreck Bay Aboriginal Community on the South Coast: a place which has inspired her since she began painting at 10-years-old.
“I get my inspiration a lot from where I'm from, but when I go places and I see different areas and different landscapes that inspires me as well,” she said.
“One of my bigger pieces that is not long finished was inspired by when we were younger, we used to go down home to Wreck Bay and we’d go and collect pipis. Down home pipi soup is quite a big thing, a lot of the families grew up eating it. My uncles would go fishing off the rocks and catch sea urchins and fish.
“I guess I wanted to incorporate that memory into my piece. It’s not always just the meaning in the painting it's the feeling when you paint as well.”
Allirra started selling her contemporary indigenous art when she was 16 at the Black Market in Sydney.
In 2020, she was approached to create the artwork for the Stay Safe, Tell Someone project. Stay Safe, Tell Someone is a unique child safety model co-designed by more than 500 young people across the country. It includes a training package for staff, videos, posters and merchandise produced in simple and child-friendly language and imagery to help promote speaking up at all Y centres.
Allira said she enjoyed working on a project that empowered children with knowledge.
“I want to be able to help the younger kids, because that's what our culture is about,” she said. Allirra says even simple acts of representation can carry great power.
“It’s important for all children to see Indigenous culture represented in organisations like the Y.
Especially for kids who grow up in community, when they travel, or go places and they see their culture, even if it's as simple as like a polo shirt with an indigenous design on it, you recognise it and it's kind of comforting.”
Allirra’s participation in the project scored her first ever media interview with The National Indigenous Times.
Her work on the project has also seen her nominated as the youngest finalist in the 7NEWS Young Achiever Awards in the category of Aboriginal Education Council Aboriginal Education Award.
In 2021, the young artist made her first foray into political art with her powerful contribution to the Black Lives Matter movement.
Her painting depicts a row of shackled spirits floating above a dark red sky. Below them sit 437 yellow ochre dots in clusters, each dot a memorial to the Aboriginal deaths that have occurred in custody since the 1991 Royal Commission.
Allirra said while it can be challenging to convey meaning in the form of dots and bright colours, she was determined to deliver a strong message and remember those who suffered and died.
“We come from the Dream Time, and I believe we go back into the Dream Time, back into the constellations and the stars and the earth. So that's what I did for them. Then I put spirits in the sky with shackles around their wrists, which is very dark and deep, but we are here because of our ancestors. They went through a lot for us,” she said.
Speaking about the five deaths in custody throughout April, Allirra said it’s vital that the wider community continue to stand by Indigenous Australians.
“I'm really fortunate that I never lost cousins. But there are a lot of people still fighting who lost their cousins and their children and their brothers and sisters and they won't get justice.
“It's been really hard to see everyone hop on and off the Black Lives Matter trend.
“It's hard because we've been talking about these issues for the longest time, and no one would listen. Suddenly because of a video there was so much attention, and then afterwards it all stopped, it’s almost as if it didn’t matter in a sense.”
Allirra encourages nonindigenous Australians to self-educate on Australia’s history and deaths in custody, follow Aboriginal influencers, donate to local organisations and help keep justice on the agenda.
“I'm only 19 and a lot of people my age on the coast have 1000 to 5000 plus followers on Instagram which is crazy. If you have that many people like you could seriously change one person's perspective by sharing a post,” she said.
You can view Allirra’s artwork on Facebook and Instagram and vote for Allirra in the 2021 NSW/ACT People's Choice Award here. One vote can be cast per day and voting closes at midnight on Monday, April 26 2021.
Check out the full shoot here