STRIKING: A canoe hand-painted by local, disabled indigenous artists is unveiled yesterday during the opening ceremony of the national outrigger canoe sprint championships at Lake Kawana.
STRIKING: A canoe hand-painted by local, disabled indigenous artists is unveiled yesterday during the opening ceremony of the national outrigger canoe sprint championships at Lake Kawana. Brett Wortman

‘Viral’ response to business idea for the disadvantaged

A GROUP of disabled indigenous artists on the Sunshine Coast may have stumbled into the global canoe-decorating business, with potential customers from across the world reaching out for their hand-painted artworks.

The Maroochydore-based Nandjimadji Art Group's first hand-painted canoe was unveiled at yesterday's national outrigger sprint championships in Kawana, but Suncare Community Services business development manager Peter Watling was already fielding international requests.

"It went a bit viral - Hawaii and New Zealand," Mr Watling said. "It certainly sparked a lot of interest in Queensland, nationally and internationally."

The canoe is the first of its kind by the indigenous art group, Nandjimadji, which uses art to help indigenous people with disabilities.

BLESSING: Dancers Lyndon Davis and Nathan Morgan get down to business and (right) elder Aunty Robyn Lennox.
BLESSING: Dancers Lyndon Davis and Nathan Morgan get down to business and (right) elder Aunty Robyn Lennox.

The group hosts an art exhibition each year and has done projects for organisations around the Coast, but Mr Watling believes making canoes may become a lucrative funding stream for the program.

"There's been a number of inquiries from people who wanted both paddles painted as a commercial enterprise, where they were willing to pay a fee, which would go back into that group to help support their activities," he said.

"And there are a couple of clubs that have some interest to get them painted."

The program's facilitator, Paul Calcott, said yesterday's unveiling was a breakthrough moment for Nandjimadji.

The group that painted the canoe was made up of three aunties and three young people, each with a different disability.

One of the young men has lost his legs to diabetes, and another in his 20s has a pacemaker.

"It was so important to them to express their art and culture to the community," Mr Calcott said.

"It gives people a sense of pride in their culture, a sense of identity in the community, and people look at them not as a poor person with a disability but as an accomplished person, a talented person."

Mr Calcott said the program helped about 180 people who would have been traditionally hard to reach.

"We're very much lacking in giving people with disabilities a bit of a voice because there isn't a word for disability in our language, so it is very hard to know in the first place," he said.

"You're not seen as having a disability - you are just seen as different. The very nature of not being able to support and identify means that people often miss out on support and services and just become isolated."



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