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Australia How a 'crafty kid' from Darwin became a global millenery maestro

02:17  17 april  2022
02:17  17 april  2022 Source:   abc.net.au

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Milliner Belinda Osborne has been making headwear from her Darwin studio for 15 years. (ABC News: Che Chorley) © Provided by ABC NEWS Milliner Belinda Osborne has been making headwear from her Darwin studio for 15 years. (ABC News: Che Chorley)

When the Northern Territory's borders shut out the world due to COVID-19, local milliner Belinda Osborne had an idea.

She took inspiration from challenges experienced in that time, and imagined a headpiece that captured the beauty trapped inside her home territory.

"We weren't so much in lockdown, we were locked in, we were caged in something that's quite beautiful, Ms Osborne said.

"I wanted to put that in a piece so that whoever wears it experiences a caged feeling but in something very beautiful."

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She had just five days to make the piece and get it submitted into Australia's top millinery competition, the 2021 Myer Millinery Award, in time.

Putting in 12-hour days in her studio, the Darwin milliner measured and cut hundreds of intricate feathers to create a latticed headpiece that could sit on a wearer's head and confine them within.

The hard work paid off. Her piece, Forever Bound, won first prize in the coveted competition, and made Ms Osborne an overnight household name in millinery circles nationally and internationally.

"Winning it was such a proud achievement for myself, it's an absolute dream for a milliner in Australia," she said.

Her big win saw her order book quickly fill up, and from her Darwin studio she now makes special orders for clients in the UK, USA, Canada, Ireland, Singapore and Dubai.

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Growing up with the smells and colours of the bush her biggest influence

The 42-year-old credits her childhood growing up on a five-acre block on the outskirts of Darwin for inspiring her art and where she has taken it.

"Growing up with the local fauna and flora that's specific to our area really has influenced a lot of my designs," she said.

"I try to incorporate as much of the territory in my designs, even if you don't see it, I can see it."

Growing up as an only child, Ms Osborne's life in the bush was solitary and free.

She was raised in Darwin's rural area well before the developers moved in, and when homes in Humpty Doo were few and far between.

"We could ride our bikes or our horses down the street to our friends… it was absolutely wonderful," she said.

"We could swim in the waterholes and not worry too much about crocodiles and things like that."

When she wasn't outdoors playing, Belinda said she was inside "crafting" with her mother Joan, who was known around town as "Darwin's curtain lady."

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"I did art all the way through schooling….my mother was crafty, so I was definitely a crafty kid, I was always making something."

After finishing school, Belinda worked in fashion, studied interior design, and worked in the NT public service for almost a decade.

But her passion for millinery never waned and she continued to make headwear for people, alongside caring for her young son and working full time.

"Early on, orders really only came in very close to Darwin cup time or Melbourne Cup time … so it was super intense for the four weeks leading up to both events," she said.

When she turned 40 Ms Osborne decided to take a leap into the unknown, quitting her safe government job to take her millinery to the next level.

She estimates she has made hundreds of pieces over her 15-years as a milliner, and said she "goes into a zone" when she is making them.

"I just go off into my little magical world of make believe in my mind and just thinking how I'm going to put this piece together," Ms Osborne said.

Mother and daughter's shared passion comes out in surprise revelation

Belinda Osborne said plenty of blood, sweat and tears have gone into her work and admits some pieces can be hard to part with.

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She said the "strangest thing" in her millinery career was finding out her mother Joan was also a talented milliner in Adelaide the 1950s and '60s but never told anyone.

"She said 'are you making hats and millinery?' and I said 'yes I am' and she said to me 'I was a milliner' and lo and behold we had never had that conversation before."

Belinda said her mother went on to teach her millinery techniques that were used back in the day.

"She taught me the stuff from her era … the fundamentals and principles of millinery that I like to call 'the bones of millinery.'"

Joan died just before Ms Osborne's millinery work started turning heads and was not alive to see her big win in 2021 and foray onto the world millinery stage.

However, she said her mother continues to influence her designs, and even makes an appearance in her pieces every now and again.

"She was a bit of a materials hoarder, so I have quite a few of her boxes of things with me," she said.

"Every now and again, a hat might just need a special little item and I go and put a little bit of her in there with it and I know she'd be super proud."

This story is part of a special Born and Bred series, celebrating the work of remarkable Territorians.


Video: Some of the Northern Territory's most contentious issues have collided in Darwin as a senate inquiry into fracking the Beetaloo Basin descended into heated debate. (ABC NEWS)

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