• This year's Red Ocher Award winner Yvonne Koolmatrie with her granddaughter Lurline. Pic: Yvonne Koolmatrie (Yvonne Koolmatrie)Source: Yvonne Koolmatrie
It's an honour to receive something so big, and to be recognised as well, writes Yvonne Koolmatrie of her Red Ochre Award win as part of this year's Australia Council’s National Indigenous Arts Awards.
Nancia Guivarra

31 May 2016 - 3:21 PM  UPDATED 31 May 2016 - 3:55 PM

I'm a Ngarrindjeri person and I come from South Australia originally.

I come from the Kurrong and now I live in the riverland.  I live in paradise that's one way I can describe where I live. The Murray River is there, beautiful, calm water and it supplies me with all my materials, it's a wonderful place.

Here are the winning artists of the National Indigenous Arts Awards
Three incredibly talented Indigenous artists are being celebrated for the National Indigenous Arts Awards 2016.

I feel excited that I've won the Red Ochre Award.  I've been a weaver for so many years supplying galleries and taking an exhibition to Venice Biennale in 1997, and catered for all the galleries in Australia - they've all got a good collection of my pieces.

It's an honour to receive something so big, and to be recognised as well. I can say I'm a master weaver, I feel really proud.

It all started in 1982 when I attended a one-day workshop with the late aunty Dorie Kartinyeri from Raukkan. There were about 17 of us in the workshop, and I was the one that carried the tradition on so it can survive, and that was the most important thing.

30 years of weaving

Weaving gives me a peace within, it relaxes you, because there’s so much stress around, and you start weaving and you can’t think of anything else but the next stitch - are you doing it right? 

There’s no bad stitching, it’s not gonna break. So it keeps you motivated.  That’s why it keeps me motivated.  


It would be my family and, I lost my mum, I lost my sister and my brothers and I had that all in between. Every 10 years I’d lose a family member. 

With weaving it made me so strong - to continue, continue.  The last one to pass away was my late partner Duncan Daniels, so I thought: 'What’s going to happen now?'. I don’t drive anymore and he used to drive me to get the materials, he used to collect for me. 

So I thought maybe it’s time I give up weaving, but something inside me said 'don’t give up, continue on', and then there were these people, the ones who support me 100 percent, they flew from Sydney over to the riverland and hired a house boat and hired cars to collect all the materials so I would never give up.

That’s what inspired me, beautiful people.

Passing on skills

My son Chris he’s a weaver - this belongs to the men as well as the women - and then I started my four-year-old granddaughter, so I just give her the materials and showed her what to do and in no time she was doing those stitches and she said: "Nanna this is hard work for a kid", but she’s now got the feel for the materials.

Behind the pieces

What I want to do is capture the past.  This is why I make story mats.  Ngarrindjeri people didn’t have no carvings on rocks or anything else.  So I put their stories, my stories in a mat.

What are the highlights?

The support I got from the galleries, that encouraged me not to give up. They wanted my work so I created their pieces for them. 

They’re the ones that inspired me to keep going, people around me.

The bushtucker, the eel traps, the baskets, the echnidas and the turtles, all those things all around the edge of it it always starts off with the first people of Australia and then that connects Australia.


Colour Theory returns for Season Three on NITV at 9.00pm on Sunday from 12 June.