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“When I’m painting, it sounds silly, but it feels like a kind of ritual where I’m trying to conjure up that same strength in myself that women have had throughout time, who dare to speak up and be brave, and put themselves out there” said Naomie Hatherley.

Naomie is an artist working across painting, textiles, drawing, video, printmaking and performance, a teacher, and a mother of three. We caught up with Naomie at her home in Rubibi (Broome), on Yawaru Country, to chat about women in sport and the politics of female bodies, regional life and community, motherhood and much more.

Image credit: Naomie Hatherley and her home studio in Rubibi (Broome). Photography by Michael Jalaru Torres

Her work Keeping Score – Her Rules, Her Game: West Kimberley Football League in The Alternative Archive, charts participation in women’s AFL in Rubibi since 2019. But there is more than just statistics behind the work. It also speaks to the strong sense of community that surrounds the sport, and to broader cultural shifts occurring around gender equality and representation, both in sport and art.

“It all began when my eldest daughter joined our inaugural women’s league in 2017. I went down and watched her first game. She broke her arm, and I was absolutely blown away by her determination to keep playing the game, and this community of women who supported her” said Naomie.

“Not long after, my daughter came home and said ‘Mum, you’ll never guess what! These two women say they are my aunties.’ So, we were reconnected with these beautiful women we taught in Fitzroy Crossing almost fifteen years before, and they took my daughter under their wing.”

“As a mother, all you could ask for is to have this tribe of women, right across the ages, supporting your kids. The oldest I think was fifty and the youngest maybe like my daughter at sixteen. I was just so taken, so I wanted to pay homage to them and to what was happening. I thought it was really special.”

“It was also the idea that footy is so tied up with our national identity” Naomie continued. “And how it’s so exclusively male. I didn’t realise until following the research how hard women had fought for years to try and make their way into this space. So, for me, it’s not about footy but about the story of Australia and being able to make space for women and for other cultures.”

Naomie shared with us some old newspaper clippings covering early women’s AFL games. One read ‘…seeing that the weaker sex invaded the realms of cricket last year, and most of them made perfect fools of themselves…,’ while another read ‘…parading around in men’s clothing. I suppose we’ll have a women’s football association soon…’

“The crazy thing is” Naomie reminded us, “There’s people out there still saying those things today.”

Image credit: Naomie Hatherley’s paintings chart women’s participation in AFL. Photography by Michael Jalaru Torres

Before settling in Rubibi, Naomie spent time living in several regional towns. “We’ve lived in Bridgetown and Mullalyup, then up in Derby, where I lived for a few years. So, the kind of art that I’d make would change depending on the environment. I guess that makes sense, doesn’t it? We’re all creatures of our environment.”

“My partner and I had a gallery down south called Mullayup Gallery. We ran that for a while before I realized I really wanted to focus on my own art.” At this time Naomie was also completing a Master of Visual Art through Monash University. “I did that remotely over a few years, flying over once a year. I think that’s when I discovered what was at the core of all my work; it all starts with motherhood.”

Like the realm of sport, Naomie is interested in motherhood and mothering as a powerful form of connectivity and community, of bonding through shared experience. “When I had my first daughter, I was pretty much on my own and I was having a lot of trouble breastfeeding. I was really uptight and stressed out about it” she said.

“I used to go and sit on the oval with the old women, when everyone would go down to watch the footy, and I’d ask them, ‘What do you do when this or that happens?.’ Their response was so beautiful, so matter of fact. They had some beautiful advice, but it was also that sense of community and being held, not judged. I feel like we miss out on that behind our fences and front doors, and thinking we need to do it alone.”

“My art practice also saved me in a way” Naomie said. Since completing her Masters, she’s exhibited in numerous group exhibitions, held numerous solo shows, and won multiple prizes for her work. For example, in 2022 she presented Keeping Score at Moore’s Building in Walyalup (Fremantle), exhibiting her work Ladies, however ingenious and versatile, are apparently not designed for football playing.

In this large textile work Naomie reimagined the iconic run-through banner by hand-stitching letters – cut from old wool blankets, lace, and floral fabrics – onto pink, printed fabric. Hand-stitched with the help of her mother and auntie, the letters spell out a misogynistic quote – the title of the work – published in 1895 by The West Australian newspaper.

Alongside her solo practice, Naomie works collaboratively on The MotherLode project. “We’re a group of art-mums. In 2022 we had a little soiree at the Broome Fringe Festival. We’d been gathering and just working on whatever. We’d throw a sheet down with the babies and we’d just draw and talk.”

“We wanted to make a room or a house or something and create this experience where people could sign up and be sent on this journey where they didn’t know what was going to happen – a bit like parenthood! It was also about taking art out of a commercial gallery space into a collaborative space, where you’re talking about something really serious and heavy, but having a bit of fun with it” she shared.

Image credit: Rubibi-based artist Naomie Hatherley with Kristen Brownfield and Alanna Kusin from ART ON THE MOVE. Photography by Michael Jalaru Torres

Naomie is also a passionate art teacher. “It’s such a privileged role to have at the high school, working with these young people and watching them grow. It’s a creativity in and of itself, fostering somebody else’s” she said. “Even the very little things. You might say, ‘Look, let’s just change that line, make it thick, and then thin, and see what happens.’ And then they go, ‘Whoa!,’ and then you see them produce this wonderful work and together you go, ‘Wow, look at that’.”

Most recently, Naomie has been exploring the physical activity of trail running in tandem with drawing, to create what she calls ‘body prints’ or ‘body landscapes.’ “I’ve been running through Minyirr Park for years. I love that place and have had some very significant experiences there. I’ve taken so many photos there. I’ve got hundreds, maybe thousands of them, but I’m always disappointed. The photos just didn’t capture the experience” she said.

“So, I started to draw in the park, but then I wasn’t getting the high that I would from a run” Naomie said. “So, I was like, ‘How can I do both?,’ because time is of the essence. I had the idea to make a drawing on paper and put it down my top as I ran.” The results from this process intrigued Naomie as her drawings – created en plein air in Minyirr Park – interacted with her skin and sweat as she moved through the landscape.

“It’s this idea of the intentional and the unintentional, the unconscious and conscious mark. It’s about this relationship we have with the landscape, our perception of the landscape and how, perhaps it’s not that at all. I guess it’s just about being attuned to your surroundings.”

Before leaving, we shared a black coffee at Naomie’s kitchen bench, where she pulled down a box full of used tea bags from the top shelf of her pantry. “This is all you smell of when you are breastfeeding” joked Naomie as she opened the box. The tea bags had been unfolded, pressed, and delicately stitched into, and she offered one to each of us as a gift. I held the small piece of tea-stained, tissue-like paper to my nose, hit by the distinct smell of old milk, before slipping it between the pages of my notebook to carry home.