• Yarrabah woman wins Artist of the Year title at 2017 NAIDOC Awards. (NITV News)Source: NITV News
Kunganji artist, Elverina Johnson, draws her inspiration from the surroundings of her hometown Yarrabah, and the results have led her to win one of the biggest awards of the year.
Laura Morelli

3 Jul 2017 - 10:27 AM  UPDATED 7 Jul 2017 - 8:46 AM

Elverina Johnson is from the Kunganji tribe of Yarrabah in Far North Queensland. She has been involved in the creative industry for over 20 years as a singer, writer, performer and manager.

Elverina was the artist who uncovered the stories of Indigenous Brass Bands throughout Australia, including researching and curating an exhibition on the Yarrabah Brass Band Story called ‘Blow’im’. In 2001 she released her first album, New Beginnings, and now, at the 2017 National NAIDOC Awards she has received Artist of the Year.

“The word Yarrabah itself derives from the word yidabah - which is the flight of the sea hawk when it swoops down to get the fish from the water… but there’s also another meaning to it and that’s Yarrabah – which is a meeting place.”

But for Elverina, Yarrabah is so much more than a meeting place, it’s her home.

“No matter how far I’ve travelled and I’ve been to a few places around the world – there’s nothing more comforting than being back in your own community around your own people and your family, your children.”

“I use arts to nurture young readers, help kids take pride in themselves and appreciate their gifts and talents."

Apart from stunning views and iconic destinations, Elverina enjoys the serenity and not being amidst the hustle and bustle of a busy city town.

“I much prefer having camp fire smoke in my face than smoke from smog. Just smelling the salt water - not many people get that but if you’re someone that lives by the sea, the smell of salt water when you come back home is so comforting.”

For an artist, Elverina says there’s no shortage of inspiration in the community.

“You’ve only got to look at the mountains, smell the ocean or go for a walk and the flood gate of ideas open up. How can I convey what I’ve seen or the story I’ve been told? I can put it in painting, poetry or whatever format I chose and know that’s going to be recorded forever.”

“The important thing for us is that our fight isn’t about what we’ve lost, our fight is to keep what we have.” 

As well as being an artist in various fields of work Elverina has also been involved in community leadership and taking on roles.

“I use arts to nurture young readers, help kids take pride in themselves and appreciate their gifts and talents, and also get parents to help recognise and develop their talents."

The mother of four says her biggest inspiration in life are her sons.

“Just looking at my boys I’m inspired to keep going because everything I do is for them,” she said.

“They’re starting to show their own creative expressions in various means. I’m proud of them because they’re beginning to convey their own stories and feelings through their creativity.”

Elverina says the beauty of Yarrabah is that unlike a lot of Aboriginal people who are fighting for what they’ve still lost, the community is fighting to keep what they already have.

“Yarrabah has its ups and downs, but as a community we find strength to come together when there’s sadness. If we didn’t have what we have here our struggle would be a lot worse,” she said.

“The important thing for us is that our fight isn’t about what we’ve lost, our fight is to keep what we have.” 

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