• There's a story behind every Chaboo Art design. (Supplied)Source: Supplied
As governments crack down on the fake Indigenous art trade, a small home decor business in Brisbane is cutting out the middle man by connecting directly with their customers.
Ella Archibald-Binge

26 Apr 2018 - 5:44 PM  UPDATED 27 Apr 2018 - 3:51 PM

It was after a chance outing to IKEA that Casey Coolwell decided to brighten up a new lazy susan with some Aboriginal artwork.

A graphic designer by trade, the Quandamooka woman loved the end result and decided to try her hand at combining her designs with other homewares.

"We wanted people to take things home and put them on their table and actually use them," she tells NITV. 

Casey would design and hand paint the items, while partner Roy Fisher - a professional painter and decorator - would apply the finishing touches to ensure products were kitchen-friendly. 

The reaction from their friends and family was overwhelming, and the couple laugh that they were obliged to give away the first few pieces for free.

Spurred on by their early success, Casey tried to set up a web page to share their work - but mistakenly bought an online store instead.

"I was like oh, we have to sell something now!"

And so, by accident, Chaboo Art was born. The name, Chaboo, is a nod to the couple's beloved maltese poodles Chanchi and Boomer (short for Boomerang).

A year on and the business has attracted a loyal following, proving immensely popular at the inaugural Meeanjin Markets - an annual venture showcasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses in the Brisbane CBD.

Casey and Roy say customers are drawn to the stories behind the designs.

"They walk away feeling that they’ve shared in our knowledge and our culture, so that’s pretty amazing," says Casey. 

"And got something authentic," Roy adds. "And seeing what they should be seeing – a story and a face to the artist."

By selling online or at markets, the products go directly from Casey and Roy's lounge room to the buyers, and the business is 100 per cent Aboriginal-owned and operated. 

"We're like the delivery drivers, we're the artists, we're the marketers, we're everything in between," Casey says.

"It does get stressful, but at the end of the day it's sharing what we love, which is the main thing."

Operating without any government or external assistance, the couple hope to send a strong message to other First Nations artists: that with skill, passion and determination, you can do anything.

"Selling products in your own city, hopefully people see that you're doing a good thing and be a role model to our people and our family," says Roy, a Wakka Wakka man. 

Casey adds: "We had a lot of our nieces and nephews coming out and seeing us at the markets, which was great - so then they can see that you can do other things instead of sport! They can start a business – they can do whatever they want."


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