For over a decade, Aunty Nicole Williams has been an unwavering influence in the lives of young women as a teacher at Carinity Education Southside.
Away from her role at the all-girls special assistance school in Brisbane, she also has a significant impact as an artist and cultural leader.
Culturally connected to the Kuku Djungan people of Far North Queensland, Aunty Nicole was recently commissioned to create an artwork for a collection by Brisbane-based Cre8ve Nations in conjunction with the Brisbane City Council.
Aunty Nicole’s commissioned artwork called ‘Reflections’, on display in the bustling Queen Street Mall in Brisbane (Meanjin), focuses on two key aspects of her life: her cultural identity and love for the environment.
“The art installation is about the reflections in our lives and our connection to country, places and space. It highlights what these relationships mean for us – the First Nations people – and ultimately as people collectively on this planet,” Aunty Nicole said.
“It’s about the waterways, but it’s also the parallels with our lives too. We go on such a journey through life, the different changes and seasons of our lives.
“It’s a statement about my commitment to nature and my commitment to the First Nations people. How we interact with the Earth and Mother Nature, how we respect her, and how we use her resources but do it in a kind, wise and cautious way.
“You have got to reflect on your natural environments so that you know what you have before it’s too late. We have it right now – and we have a responsibility to look after it.”
The artwork features some of Aunty Nicole’s favourite creative strands, including calligraphy transferred to repurposed metal.
She says her degradable art, which will eventually “break down and go back into the environment”, is “an extension of my determination to be a recycler”.
“A lot of my art uses really simple resources, like food colouring, to create some beautiful colours without the need to buy paint,” Aunty Nicole said.
“There’s a joy in knowing that a little bit of extra effort is going to create something beautiful.”
Aunty Nicole describes herself as a “functional artist” who goes beyond aesthetics, infusing her creations with practical purpose.
From crafting bucket hats and carry bags from old clothing to breathing new life into used paper through recycling and recolouring, she consistently embraces the principles of sustainability.
She also uses her creative skills to empower and inspire Southside students. This includes assisting them to create designs and screen print their own t-shirts, and finding value in older and discarded items.
“The reality is a lot of the young people from our school come from families who are economically challenged,” Aunty Nicole said.
“I try to instil in and inspire the young people at school that you don’t have to have all these flash things; sometimes simple things work just as effectively.
“My colleagues and I take students to the recycle shops. They can see what wealth and resources are at their fingertips there.
“I’ve got kids who do audits of the school, to see how we can be more eco-friendly by recycling and sorting out our plastics, cans, bottles and paper.”
Aunty Nicole says she is “all about economic empowerment” and inspiring young people to think about “financial freedom, to have a choice and have possibilities”.
“Start right now. Recycle cans or make something and sell it online, through all the social media networks that you can tap into. Put a price on it and see what happens,” she said.
“I’ve had a student who, when she was in class, used to sit there while I was talking and just doodle. She now gets pots and containers, puts her doodles all over them, and they sell for $50.”
Aunty Nicole’s unwavering passion for art, the environment, and her culture make her a wonderful role model for aspiring Indigenous artists at Southside school. We look forward to seeing what the next generation can produce under her guidance.