Elverina Johnson, who comes from Yarrabah in far north Queensland, is one of Australia’s most highly respected Indigenous artists. She says she was overwhelmed by the unexpected recognition from the community.
"I still don't think it's sunk in, my mind keeps going over and over. I'm normally someone who has a lot to say, but I couldn't say anything. It's a big honour to have this kind of recognition at this level for the work that I've been doing over the years, because there’s a misconception that it's about visual arts, but it's about arts in all its mediums," she said.
With creative talents spanning the spectrum of visual and performing arts, Elverina has been involved in the arts industry for over 30 years as a singer, songwriter, playwright, actor, photographer and artist.
“I guess I'm just an artist who uses all different mediums to express my views about things and stories told to me. Stories about my community, my Elders, my family and anything and everything I do. I sing and write and perform in language,” she explains.
Elverina believes that the arts can empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and restore a genuine sense of pride in their culture and communities. For this reason, she works with youth and Elders alike to promote cultural respect and integrity.
"I use the arts to mentor young leaders. It's different, it's a lot less threatening and kids engage more."
Likewise, she's an advocate for the preservation and maintenance of language.
"It's an important piece of the puzzle of the make up of you as an Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander person. Within language you learn about time, history, who, what, where, when, and how. Language keeps us connected to where we are. It's important to revive and use it as much as possible... visually, in song, through dance. It's easy for our kids to learn songs."
Elverina volunteers her time to address critical social issues impacting on the lives of people in Indigenous communities, living true to her traditional family name -Bunya Badjil - which means “Good Woman”.
"We now have a high percentage of kids coming out of uni. Our future is bright, strong talented young people, who are intellectual and smart, I call it 'two-way strong'.
“Our future is optimistic -- we just gotta put our faith in the young ones and using the tools used against us to go back and be strong people doing it our way," Elverina says.
Elverina's art was proudly worn by many FNQ locals at this year’s NAIDOC Ball and will no doubt be snapped up by many more fans after her prominent win.