• Bernadette and Chris Hardy. (SBS Sandra Fulloon)Source: SBS Sandra Fulloon
Bernadette Hardy is a Gamilaraay-Dharug woman, in a business partnership with designer-husband Chris. Together they are forging a new approach to furniture and interior design in Australia, through their Indigenous business hardyhardy.
Sandra Fulloon

19 Apr - 12:44 PM 

“We're both interior and industrial, so what we have is very unique,” Bernadette Hardy says.

The couple recently completed a large commission for a private school in Sydney, redesigning dormitories as a cosy space for the students to live and study.

“We modelled [the designs] from first class airline suites so that they felt within a nook, a secure cocoon in a home-away-from-home,” Bernadette says.

The couple met through their work, and a professional collaboration soon followed.

“We had known about each other for years, and I had always felt a very strong connection with Chris and the form of his furniture.

“Chris was a very well-known designer and I had just graduated. So it was an organic process, and later we started a family.”

Family is central to this Sydney-based design business. As a child, Bernadette learned a love of timber from her Indigenous father Gary Bellwood, a master craftsman who opened his own workshop in 1984.

“I built my business and my trade on trust. I used to go and get jobs and because I had worked everywhere [there was] a lot of good word of mouth.”

Gary’s Bellwood Kitchens workshop in Sydney’s Wetherill Park is still stacked high with timbers collected over the years, including Tasmanian black wattle and other Australian native hardwoods.

“Bernadette knows what timber is, which way to use timber,” Gary says proudly.

“I chose to study design so that I could work with you, and I really value all the knowledge that you shared with me,” Bernadette says standing with Gary in the workshop where much of the hardyhardy designing is now done.

Chris and Bernadette deliberately select timbers to ensure Indigenous participation at every stage of the supply chain.

“All the knowledge that you gave me, it’s connecting back to our culture and our country. And maybe people think by using this Indigenous timber we are employing people, but what we are actually doing is getting our people back on the land,” Bernadette says.

“I find it wonderful to have that connection to my Aboriginal heritage,” Gary adds.


However, just as hardyhardy’s business was taking off several years ago, the couple faced a severe challenge.

“Chris was over at the Milan Furniture Fair which was a really big deal for our family,” Bernadette says.

“I was pregnant with twins, and we already had Emma who was 12 months old.

“Then one of the twins, Oliver, was diagnosed as incompatible with life outside the womb, and that certainly shifted everything about us as a family.”

Bernadette and Chris held the newborn for 37 minutes, until he died peacefully. But it was not to be the only shock that year.

“When we left hospital, we found that Emma had gone inside herself. She was removed from what had been a tight, happy family.”

Doctors then delivered the couple with unexpected news.

“You never forget a day where your child is diagnosed with autism,” she says.

As Bernadette and Chris began to understand the lifelong journey they were on as parents, they turned to Indigenous Business Australia (IBA) for help. Senior Business Development Officer Talitha Roberts was on hand.

“We were both dealing with grief and autism as a family while running a business,” Bernadette says.

“Talitha was there to guide us as a third party, to explain basic but essential processes in a safe environment.

“Being so compassionate, she was crucial to getting our business back on track.”

Talitha Roberts has only praise for the Hardy family as they restart their business and prepare a new web site to share their designs with the world.

“Bernadette and Chris have shown enormous strength and resilience, and were able to adapt and be flexible, which is something that's a great role model for business owners everywhere.”

IBA has helped many of Australia’s 16,000 Indigenous business ventures adapt and pivot during the pandemic.

“Many of the businesses that we work with are isolated, and face different challenges,” IBA’s Talitha Roberts says.

“So we've managed to create great products and services that help those businesses transition through this period.”

The launch of hardyhardy's web site is a further step in celebrating Australia's First Nations culture. and for more information contact Indigenous Business Australia