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Noongar Dolls

Yarns of the Heart

ND Project Overview Mob


In 2010 Community Arts Network was invited to work in Narrogin to deliver a healing project for women, and at the community’s request, Yarns of the Heart was born.

Yarns of the Heart brought Nalda Searles and her colleague Cecile Williams together with new generations of Noongar ladies to stitch and share, each one creating unique dolls that expressed stories of love, loss, strength and joy.

Each week Nalda and Cecile ran workshops with the local Noongar community teaching textile skills.

As the project developed, stories and connections came to light, revealing the true significance of the dolls. CAN was supported by ScreenWest’s Indigenous Community Stories program, sending a crew from the Film and Television Institute (FTI) to Narrogin for a week to film and interview the artists and capture their stories. CAN invited Catherine Simmonds over from Melbourne to be the interviewer, who had previously worked with the Narrogin community on a soundscape project.

During the week, stories of connection to family, community and culture were told as the women talked about their dolls and why they made them. They described dressing them in nice clothes, to represent their ideal image of themselves and their families and the proud way they identified with these dolls, made only by Noongar people.

When asked ‘What did you play with as a child – what was your doll?’, the replies told of living on reserves, fashioning dolls from sardine tins and clay, borrowed bottles, pegs and bound bush cuttings.

The Yarns of the Heart exhibition bought together a selection of the dolls created by the Noongar women, girls and boys from Narrogin and Pingelly. Almost every participant is represented, with over forty new pieces on show, curated by award winning Noongar artist and sculptor Sharyn Egan.

What began as a series of weekly doll making workshops led to community based exhibitions, and now has culminated in major exhibitions in leading cultural institutes across the country.

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