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Rosie Barkus

Rosie Barkus

Rosie Barkus
Rosie Barkus. Photo: Dragi Markovic

Meet the maker Rosie Barkus

Rosie Barkus was born on Waiben Island and her ancestral ties are to Moa and Mer islands.

Her mother taught her the significance of maintaining culture through daily activities such as weaving.

In 1986, Barkus established a craft store on Waiben and began making jewellery from natural fibres and debris found on the beach.

She also began experimenting with various forms of fabric printing, using innovative designs and cultural motifs.

Excerpts from an interview with Rosie Barkus by the National Museum of Australia, 5 December 2005.

NMA: You were born here on TI?

RB: I was born here on Thursday Island, 1959. When I was 6 month's old my dad had a lugger and we went down to Cairns. Anchored at Holloways Beach and that's where I grew up.

NMA: So when did you come back to Thursday Island?

RB: I came up in 1980.

NMA: When did you start to do your linocuts, your prints?

RB: My dad had a little second-hand shop down town because of his contacts and all his friends in Cairns, it was called Ware's Discount Clothing Store, and then I took over in 1986. I started to introduce all new clothes and new tourists started to come so I started to introduce t-shirts, souvenirs. But before that I was printing because they were coming into the shop and they were saying 'anything local, we want something local you know to take back', so I try some of that screen printing.

I did little tablecloths, placements, teatowels and that and then lino printing. My sister at St Paul's had a group going there and they were doing lino prints. And they called themselves Wug, that's another name for St Paul, Wug. Wug Fabrics. So I said 'oh you send them fabrics, I go sell it here for you', so I had that in the shop. And I liked the lino look, I like that rough look, (whereas screen-printing is very clean cut) because I can make a mistake and no one can see it. That's how I started with the lino printing and I loved it.

NMA: So when you were growing up, did you always have an art influence or is it something you've just managed?

RB: I might have had that there but I didn't know. Living at Holloways Beach we lived on the beach so go swim saltwater, playing in the sand, drawing in the sand. You know that might have been part of it but more so I reckon when I had the shop and I changed the name from Wares Discount Clothing Store to Rosie's Shop and that's where that creativeness, I believe, really started to flow in arranging in the shop, changing it around and displaying. That's where it started. I started to put designs down for the screenprinters in Cairns too, commercial printers to print for me.

NMA: In a lot of your prints you've got a lot of Torres Strait Islander cultural influences, why's that?

RB: Cos I'm an Ilan girl (laughs) and it's natural and when you see where I live here, well, how can you not be inspired to draw.

NMA: It's a strong influence.

RB: Absolutely. And my drawings are of the sea, of the shells, of the cultural drawings with the island drum, the dhari and I also draw the masks. The masks from the Haddon Collection and that, and so I do the masks as well.

NMA: And some of your works are in other cultural institutions? Can you name a few?

RB: I've got some in the National Art Gallery in Canberra, Queensland Art Gallery in Brisbane, Powerhouse Museum in Sydney and the Maritime Museum in Sydney as well.

NMA: Just talking about your life and how things may have influenced you to get into this artwork, you have obviously developed into a more professional business now.

RB: There's laws on turtle shell but I got turtle shell comb, Ilan comb and still I got turtle shell jewellery that I wear but I can't sell them see. But see Torres Strait Islanders are renowned and uncle, late uncle Ephraim Bani, say that Torres Strait Islanders are the only Indigenous people who carve masks out of Turtle Shell. That's what I picked up from uncle Ephraim and that's what I hold close to me in my designing and in sharing it to others, that people must know that. They use the hawksbill turtle, the one we use for ornaments and shell for mask is the Hawksbill, cos it's proper thick.

NMA: So what were we talking about is transformation from old to new. What you do still has influences from the old traditions and draws from that.

RB: And still draws from that. All my drawings and designs are from the Haddon book and using the Haddon masks in educating the wider audience. What these things are, even our own people here don't know, and I did not know until I come to the arts more and I read more Torres Strait books, history, for my own thing and I thank God when I had Rosie's shop that I buy the last Haddon Collection [catalogue] from Cairns Walkers Bookshop, it went out of print soon after.