Passion and persistence
A childhood dream and artistic drive refused to let 71-year-old Julie Appo settle into retirement. Instead the Gooreng Gooreng woman from Bundaberg has started a business at an age when she could be forgiven for slowing down.
“In late 2020 I opened a clothing boutique featuring my textile designs. This came about because I had a dream from a very early age of becoming a fashion designer. When a small shop became vacant in the coastal town of Bargara near Bundaberg, I opened 'The Beach Dresser',” said Julie
“I had previously undertaken studies in fashion design and together with my skills in visual arts, I have forged a career in art and fashion. Being skilled as an artist and fashion designer, my creative passion lies within the area of wearable art and textile design.
“My boutique caters to those who want to wear uniquely designed garments with fabrics primarily featuring textile designs based upon the imagery of the Burnett River Rocks engravings. My clients prefer to wear natural fibres, endorse the present 'slow fashion' movement and importantly, choose ethically produced garments.”
Long and winding roads
Julie has always been determined and her latest venture is another step in a journey that began when she was a child and liked drawing circles and other designs. After working in administration roles as a young woman she was able to return to her passion for art and study it later in her life.
“I was introduced to my artistic practice from an early age. My memories of drawing and sewing go back to when I started primary school. I remember sewing clothes for a doll I never had and drawing for competitions in the local art scene. I was unable to attend art college when I finished secondary school and mainly held administration positions for many years. In my early 30s I had an overwhelming desire to take up studies in fashion design. Later I followed my passion for the visual arts by returning to study again. This time majoring in fine arts,” she said.
Two of Julie's designs
“I guess I maintained my passion for the arts by always participating in artistic pursuits and surrounding myself with other artists. Importantly I continued to hone my skills and allow myself to explore other areas of interest.
“After completing my Bachelor of Visual Arts in Victoria, I was invited to undertake my Bachelor of Arts (Honours) by Dr Nereda White who was then the coordinator of Weemala Indigenous Higher Education Unit at ACU’s Brisbane Campus.
“As Nereda is my sister I had the opportunity to observe how Weemala operated and saw that they really looked after their students. Importantly, the unit was highly supported by the university which maintained a close relationship with staff and students.
“The atmosphere at Weemala ... well it was like family. At ACU I had the best experience I think I could have had. I achieved my goals with the encouragement, support and guidance of my two supervisors, Nereda and Dr Lindsay Farrell. In 2002 I believe I was the first Indigenous student to complete a Bachelor of Arts (Honours) degree at ACU.”
But returning to study after a couple of decades is not without challenges.
“I didn't enjoy my primary and secondary education experience, so I was very apprehensive about undertaking study as a mature age student. I felt I had been away from the classroom situation for too many years and would find it almost impossible to study again and at such a high level. But my ambition to finally realise my dreams far outweighed the fear of attending a higher education facility. Well, not really. I was scared,” Julie said.
“I was extremely concerned knowing I had to write a thesis as part of my degree with the knowledge I wasn't very good at essay writing at school. After doing some preparatory lessons I was pleasantly surprised at how well I could write. I learned to appreciate the enjoyment of writing and completing my thesis.
“The Weemala staff, especially Nereda, gave me so much encouragement and a belief in myself that I felt confident enough to undertake my honours degree.
Julie at 71 and 17.
“I am quite proud of my achievement and would encourage others to fulfil their ambitions by studying. It will expand their knowledge base and put them on a path to achieving their dreams. When you study at ACU you do not stand alone. You will be supported throughout your time there. Yes, you will have to be responsible and work hard, but you will be supported.”
Sharing her knowledge
Julie is proud to be an example to the community for her persistence and drive and to be able to share her culture.
“There are lots of things I am proud of in my career but the most important was to complete my honours degree at ACU. This degree really took me out of my comfort zone but was so instrumental in forwarding my career. The skills I learned, the confidence I gained, allowed my creative spirit to take me to the place I am today.
“I have always tried to impart knowledge about, and raise the importance of, the traditional art of my area. Through my art and textile designs I have raised the profile of the engravings as well as the site of the Burnett River Rocks in Bundaberg. The general public was mainly unaware of its existence. I have used my thesis to generate a wider appreciation of the engravings being tangible evidence of my Gooreng Gooreng people's existence in this area.
“It is important that younger generations have role models to look up to. Those who have gained a measure of success in their lives through in further education. It is important to provide the impetus and pathway for others to follow.”
Her advice to others thinking about returning to study?
“You are not alone in this. Work hard. This is the first step to securing a wonderful career and future. Remember always to remain true to yourself. Respect your lecturers and fellow students.”
If you’re interested in a career like Julie’s, explore creative arts at ACU.