Storytelling and Connection: We Interview NAIDOC 2020 Artist Charlie Chambers Jnr

Charlie Chambers Jnr is a proud Jarowair man. The Jarowair people are from the Toowoomba, Dalby and Bunya Mountains region. Charlie grew up in the Cherbourg community listening to his elders tell dreamtime stories. It was these stories that ultimately inspired him to paint.  

Today we talked to Charlie about his experience working with Yarn and his latest artwork for our NAIDOC 2020 collection “Our Many Tribes”. This beautiful artwork truly embodies this year's NAIDOC theme “Always Was, Always Will Be.

How long have you been working with Yarn? How did you begin?

I started in 2011, Bundarra found out about me and artist Sheldon lee at the Southbank Institute. Being with Bundarra has got my name out there. 

What was your first project with us? What story did the painting tell?

It was Communities, it shows we are all connected, whether you’re a city, town or country….. Because back in the day when Aboriginal people didn’t get to say where to go or what to do, they were taken from traditional land and brought to missions. This means I meet family in every single town….. Many of us are connected in some way.

Let's talk about your most recent painting for our NAIDOC 2020 collection “Our Many Tribes”, what story does it tell?

The different shades of colours in the background represent different states; but long before those states came along, we had boundaries of our own. The defined segments represent all the different tribes that existed in Australia, long before colonisation. These tribes made up the nation within itself.

What does this year’s NAIDOC theme “Always Was, Always Will Be” mean to you?

Because Australia is getting so multicultural now, “Always Was, Always Will Be” means this will always be the land of the Indigenous people. When Captain Cook came to Australia, he didn’t discover it, we were already here. All the history we learn in schools is all of a bunch of lies….Talk to the traditional owners of your area and they will give a proper understanding.

When we talk about this year's NAIDOC theme, we talk about the different tribes, different languages and different clans that exist, and continue to exist today.

What’s it like to see your artwork become clothing?

Growing up I would just paint on bark. But now you’ve got all of this technology, you know people seeing your artwork is mind blowing. It used to just be in galleries but now you’re actually seeing the artwork worn by people in communities. And it’s a way of sharing too……… A way of telling stories from generation to generation…….So for me it's a good way of getting my stuff out there.

What are your hopes and plans for the future?

Live day by day and see what happens next.

We can all learn something from this last statement. It is such an important reminder to be present and live in the moment.

You can check out more Charlie's incredible artwork on Instagram.