Cherie Johnson embraces Aboriginal perspectives through Speaking in Colour

Cherie Johnson, Speaking in Colour owner and operator, Aboriginal arts and education consultant. Photo by Jaimie Carpenter.

Cherie Johnson, Speaking in Colour owner and operator, Aboriginal arts and education consultant. Photo by Jaimie Carpenter.

Gamilaroi and Weilwun woman and owner of Speaking in Colour spoke with Create NSW about her all-women Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisation that helps businesses, Government, community groups, regional art galleries and schools embrace Aboriginal perspectives and foster powerful, positive relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people.

“We (Speaking in Colour) believe that community-led Aboriginal economic enterprise is the way forward for our people. By our people having their own vehicle to effect change it ensures program and product delivery of cultural knowledge is presented appropriately.”

Tell us a bit about yourself and where you’re from.

I am a proud descendant of the Gamilaroi and Weilwun people. My grandmother, Rachal Darcy, was born on the Beemunnal Mission in Warren, NSW. However, my mother Dawn Conlan was born on Awabakal land in Newcastle in the 1950s. Since then our families have been active members of the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie communities. I am a mother of two, the eldest of six, and sista to many.

What does Speaking in Colour offer? What is your vision?

We are a nationally recognised provider of Cultural Education and Immersion Programs. Our highly skilled team of facilitators and Educators constantly are designing professional development for teachers, online training, writing education resources as well as working with a diverse clientele including Government and Industry, Community Organisations, the Not-for-Profit Sector and large Corporations.

We hope to instil confidence in educators and professionals by continuing to provide cultural education and creative resources to support organisations and individual’s cultural journey.

Speaking in Colour is also an Active Kids and Creative Kids provider. We support the creative arts sector and wider youth community by provide cultural immersion opportunities utilising the Creative and Active Kids vouchers and cultural programs resulting in annual exhibitions.

Currently we have three creative packs available via our online shop. One of these packs is an online weaving experience. The cultural content such as traditional harvesting techniques has been written by master weavers with a combined 70 year’s cultural teaching experience. However, to be culturally appropriate online, we encourage people to be “Inspired by the traditional to make the contemporary”, as such we provide contemporary materials and make fun sculptures.

Speaking in Colour has an all-women Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander team of like-minded educators, artists and health professionals. How did this come about?

Speaking in Colour started with the vison to be an Aboriginal owned and run Aboriginal Education organisation by community for community. Understanding there are many talented Aboriginal artists and sector professionals in the areas in which we work. Since we started in 2011 many have caught the vision and come along, knowing that together we are stronger. The fact that we are majority women run is interesting, however in line with our values as our social impact work is youth and women focused.

You’ve previously mentioned that Speaking in Colour is about building capacity in the community. What do you mean by this, and why is it so important?

We believe that community-led Aboriginal economic enterprise is the way forward for our people. By our people having their own vehicle to effect change it ensures program and product delivery of cultural knowledge is presented appropriately. The wider population is seeking knowledge and direction, it is important this knowledge is presented well to bring about effective change.

How do you help educators feel confident and equipped to deliver Aboriginal perspectives in their classrooms – both in schools and in the corporate world?

Our suite of professional development linked to cultural knowledge, key learning areas and the continuums as set by ACARA (Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority) help educators learn content, while we demonstrate how to deliver the content in their programs meeting assessable outcomes.

In the corporate space we come from a strengths-based approach. Our content is tailored based on objectives as set by those booking the sessions. We use government extracts, references and data using both qualitive as well as quantitively methods to present information. All our experiences being a wellness team building or a capacity training ends with ‘how to be an agent for change’. We show ways that individuals and organisations can be part of the solution.

What importance do Aboriginal cultural activities like weaving, making Possum Skins Cloaks and Aboriginal dance have in delivering Speaking in Colour’s educational programs, cultural experiences and projects?

These cultural identity and wellness programs have been written and are often are delivered with our Senior cloak makers and master weavers. These practices are our youth and communities’ birth right to learn. By connecting to country, cultural and community we are strong and well.

You must be one of the busiest people in NSW, with a successful business, a PhD in the works and a young family. What tools do you use to stay on top of everything?

We work diligently on having a strong team. There are many talented people who have contributed to the success of Speaking in Colour and we are extremely proud.
I exercise, eat and sleep well and have a few close friends who keep me grounded.

And finally, tell us all about the book you’re writing about critters in the night, and where we can find it!

Bush friends Guuluuguu Gimbaijar is soon to be published. This will be available via our online shop with teachers’ resources linked to positive behaviour for learning theory, compete with a set of how to make your own bush friends’ cards. Super cute, we may even release this with additional resources as a Creative Kids pack bush friends.


Image: Cherie Johnson, Speaking in Colour owner and operator, Aboriginal arts and education consultant. Photo by Jaimie Carpenter.
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Published: 4 March 2021