Community-led craft hubs drive social and economic wellbeing in remote Queensland

People in remote central western Queensland are embracing local creativity, art and culture to foster social inclusion, drive economic outcomes, and enhance wellbeing for individuals and communities.

On Bidjara and Iningai Country near Barcaldine. Photo by Longbow Productions.

Situated on Bidjara and Iningai country, the small communities of Blackall, Tambo and Barcaldine are home to thriving arts and cultural ecosystems, encompassing high-profile programs and events alongside numerous local craft groups and volunteer-led activities.

This is also a region experiencing significant challenges, such as the long-term social and economic effects of unrelenting drought. Central western Queensland has been drought-declared since 2013, and the towns of Blackall, Tambo and Barcaldine are ranked in the lowest quintile of the Socio-Economic Disadvantage Index. Yet, community members highlight their heritage, culture and landscapes as crucial local assets, and embrace their creative skills and craft traditions as innovative avenues to address the challenges they face.

Artesian Originals Cooperative, Barcaldine

In Barcaldine, a group of local women recognised the talent of local makers, and the potential for a shop dedicated to selling locally made crafts. They also saw that social isolation and loneliness were profoundly affecting the wellbeing of women in their community. With the support of local businesses, donations and community working bees, these women founded Artesian Originals Cooperative in early 2020. Artesian Originals occupies a formerly empty shopfront on the main street of Barcaldine and provides a community meeting place as well as a much-needed outlet for local makers to grow their small businesses.

Artesian Originals, Barcaldine: ‘we rise by lifting others’. Photo supplied.

The shop is run entirely by volunteers and is currently a source of income for around 54 local milliners, woodworkers, jewellers, dressmakers, bakers and other local craftspeople aged from eight to eighty. It includes a book exchange and gallery and invites people to stop by for a cuppa and chat on the vintage lounge out the back. In the words of its founders, the shop has given local people an income, a new purpose and place to be, and new friendships. Locals told the RAASI team that creative and community-led initiatives like Artesian Originals “breathe new life into the town” and evidence how collective wellness in a community is achieved through investing in its people.

Building on the success of Artesian Originals, the founders have just opened its ‘sister shop’, The Shop of Opportunity. ‘Shopportunity’ is an op shop which gives all proceeds back to the community, and is currently using proceeds to support critical services including Barcaldine Aged Care.

The Lost Art, Blackall

The Lost Art, Shamrock Street, Blackall. Photo by Longbow Productions.

The Lost Art in Blackall is a social enterprise activity which provides training and support for job seekers and enhances social inclusion for disadvantaged groups to learn new skills in traditional bush leather craft and woodwork. A collaboration between Red Ridge Interior Queensland and RAPAD Employment Services Queensland (RESQ), the Lost Art aims to preserve traditional bushcrafts while mentoring local men to become leathercraft workshop facilitators throughout central western Queensland. Sales of the handmade leather crafts including stock whips, belts and bags support further local projects.

Speaking with the RAASI team, men at the Lost Art highlighted social interaction and pride as important personal outcomes resulting from their involvement. Similar to Artesian Originals, “a place to be in the morning”, and a place to meet new people, share skills and stories were mentioned as benefits. The Lost Art also links explicitly to community health initiatives. Queensland Health contracts The Lost Art to facilitate leatherworking workshops throughout the central west. While people are reluctant to attend health information sessions, offering creative and hands-on workshops reduces stigma and provides spaces that are safer and more inclusive for health conversations.

Artesian Originals and The Lost Art highlight that the solutions to seemingly intractable problems, such as social isolation, already exist within communities. They also demonstrate that heritage, art, culture and creativity are powerful assets and tools for enhancing social cohesion and wellbeing. These grassroots local initiatives reflect recent research by Bartleet et al. (2019) which emphasises that in remote communities the social, cultural and economic outcomes of engagement with art, culture and creativity are inseparable.

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