If you follow the MacDonnell Ranges south-west from Tyewerretye (Alice Springs) until you hit the banks of the Finke River, you’ll find the Indigenous community of Ntaria (Hermannsburg).
The township, which sits on Western Arrernte Country, is home to 600 people. There’s a church, a school, a petrol station and a general store where a travel-sized bottle of shampoo can go for $12.20.
The closest Priceline chemist is 130 kilometres away in Alice Springs. For the local women and girls, ducking to the shops to buy tampons, mascara or face cleanser is a three-hour roundtrip.
“When we pulled up in Hermannsburg in our high-top campervan filled with boxes of toiletries, makeup and supplies, we were greeted with big smiles and a lot of excitement,” says Anika Fechner-Head, 24, who visited the Northern Territory community last month with her friend Ellie Di Biagio, 25, to deliver a shipment from the Happy Boxes Project.
“We first got involved with Happy Boxes a year ago when we found them on Instagram and organised a product drive,” explains Ellie. “We wanted to create and donate 30 boxes and we ended up with 300.”
After their product drive success, Ellie and Anika joined the board of volunteers at the Happy Boxes Project, which was founded in 2019 by Emma Sullings to help provide essentials (and a little pampering) to women in the most remote corners of Australia. Since then, the Project has grown to reach more than 50 communities around Australia with the support of over 70 businesses including Lorna Jane, Evo haircare and Thread Together.
“I have a firsthand understanding of the struggles women in remote communities face,” explains Emma, who spent five years teaching in the Northern Territory. “That’s why I have so much passion and such a strong belief in what we do.”
Living in an isolated community has unique challenges, says Ellie, who has worked in Indigenous education for six years and is studying to be a teacher. “Often houses are overcrowded so multiple girls are sleeping in one bed. If a toilet or shower stops working, it can take months to get repaired, and not being able to shower or brush your teeth can have ongoing health impacts,” she says.
A Happy Box might not be able to fix a broken shower, but it can make a difference.
“We know a perfume isn’t going to address the big issues like crowded housing and a lack of resources,” says Anika. “But there’s power in making someone feel good.”
And in Indigenous communities, that power is shared. “It was really nice to see how everyone shared everything. One of the girls told us she was going to give some of her things to her mum and aunty – that’s kinship,” adds Anika, who also made deliveries to Yuendumu and Mutitjulu, as well as the women’s shelter and National Indigenous Training Academy in Alice Springs.
Along with basic toiletries, Anika and Ellie delivered yoga mats, water bottles, scrunchies, socks, jumpers, hairbrushes, make up, face masks and sports bras. “You can see in their eyes how special the products make them feel,” says Ellie. “So many of the girls are talented athletes, and having quality sports gear gives them such a boost. I hope to see some of them playing in the AFLW one day.”
The Happy Boxes Project is about so much more than giving out free lipsticks: it’s about giving opportunities, bringing joy and boosting confidence. It’s a practical way for the privileged to start addressing the inequalities in our country.
“This is a tangible thing people can do to help that goes beyond simply donating money. Anyone can put together a Happy Box and send some love to a remote community,” says Anika. “I’ve been overwhelmed by how generous people are and how much people want to help.”
To do just that, visit happyboxesproject.com