A relationship born on the netball court has blossomed into a mentorship that has helped Wiradjuri woman Thalia Uilelea express her artistic talents and start her own business.
A keen netballer for the past six years, the 20-year-old from Queanbeyan has formed a strong bond with former coach Esma Livermore – now Queanbeyan-Palerang deputy mayor.
Councillor Livermore, an accomplished Aboriginal artist herself, inspired Thalia to connect with her culture through art.
Thalia said looking to Elders for guidance was a natural part of her community’s culture.
“Esma happened to be an amazing Indigenous artist, so I would go to her for guidance when designing the Indigenous uniforms,” she said.
In 2020, Thalia helped design the first Indigenous netball uniform for the Queanbeyan Netball Association’s Indigenous round in NSW.
A year later, she helped design the ACT Capital Spirit Premier League uniform, giving players the opportunity to proudly wear designs from her native culture.
The design depicts flowing water representing Lake Burley Griffin as a stream that connects Canberra’s different netball districts.
The uniform’s colours and patterns also represent the Torres Strait Islander people to acknowledge Ngunnawal Country, and showcase traditional animals and totems of the three First Nations players in the 2021 teams – Olivia Clark, Scarlett Kris and Thalia.
The design is close to Thalia’s heart.
With a Wiradjuri mother and Samoan father, Thalia said her art was inspired by her passion for telling stories from both parents’ cultures.
“My two cultures have always been a strong part of my identity growing up, so culture to me is about family and the values and traditions of your family,” she said.
“My art is 100 per cent influenced by my culture and expressing what I feel on a canvas. I find it both relaxing and calming to create.”
At the end of 2021, Thalia decided to start her own business “Art by Thalia” as a way to recognise her Indigenous artwork beyond the netball community. Despite branching out, Thalia is forever grateful to the sport.
“Playing netball has given me a sense of family. It’s more than just training and playing, but a culture in itself which I was drawn to when I first started.”
By being true to herself and her cultures, she hopes to inspire more people within the local community to embrace their own.
“I find it inspiring to see someone be unapologetically proud of who they are and that’s what I strive for.”
Keep up to date with Thalia’s incredible work on her Instagram page.