Carving culture with Coolamons

“The Coonamble Ceramics Collective is a pretty special place”, says Sooty Welsh, a Wailwan ceramicist from Coonamble.

Sooty discovered ceramics working with Dharug people in a creative centre in Doonside and he hasn’t looked back. When he moved back home to Coonamble, he became involved in Outback Arts and discovered the Collective.

“Now ceramics has taken over my life,” he says. “It’s all I do. With ceramic artist Prue Cullen, you will generally find me at the ceramics shed nearly every day.”

Sooty was inspired when he participated in a NAIDOC Week workshop to make coolamons. “Coolamons are found all over Australia and indigenous people use them for everything – carrying seeds or water or babies. I make them from hand and they connect me to my culture,” he says. The coolamons are shaped from the clay and then carved, drawing inspiration from patterns and designs found in scar trees that pepper the landscape of Wailwan country.

“Ceramics is not about the money for me,” says Sooty. “It’s about the enjoyment of making things. And all of my stuff revolves around my culture.” Sooty drops by Moorambilla residential camps in Baradine to see how the program is taking shape. The coolamons are starting to appear in the lantern shapes that the children are making with lantern artists Jyllie Jackson and Sara Tinning.

“I love coming to Moorambilla. It brings people together now matter who they are. I like the way that the children sing in language, because back in my day we weren’t even aloud to speak language.

“Moorambilla allows the kids to dream about what they want to be. It’s like the Troy Casser Daly song. Dream out aloud – don’t be afraid to dream because the person beside you might have the same one.”

Above: Sooty Welsh is mentoring Coonamble High School kids to create a mural in their school.

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