Meet one half of the couple who covered Qantas planes in Aboriginal art - Women's Agenda

Meet one half of the couple who covered Qantas planes in Aboriginal art

Q&A with Ros Moriarty managing director of The Jumbana Group


Tell us about The Jumbana Group

The Jumbana Group, which includes design studio Balarinji, is best known for conceptualising Aboriginal art onto Qantas 747 and 737s, the latest of which, ‘Mendoowoorrji’ was recently launched.

The company includes three separate arms: design studio Balarinji; workplace diversity consultancy, Jumbana Consulting; and not-for-profit, The Nangala Project, a grass roots venture with Indigenous children and families in the far-flung Aboriginal town of Borroloola, NT.

The Jumbana Group was founded by myself and my husband, John Moriarty when we launched our first design collection with the Australian Wool Corporation in 1983. Our first designs were created at the family kitchen table alongside our young children Tim, who was two when we launched, James, born the day after our launch and Julia, born five years later.

Why did you initially decide to start the business? What were you doing before?

We started The Jumbana Group as a way to celebrate the shared heritage of our children and keep them connected to their Aboriginal family in Borroloola in the Gulf of Carpentaria. It literally all started with us screen printing turtles onto our son’s bed linen.

We also saw how art and design could be used to help influence and change stereotypes of Australian identity as well as challenge prejudices. The catalyst for this was John being part of the Stolen Generation which saw him forcibly removed from his mother at four years of age for having skin paler than hers, given to him by his Irish father.

The business developed from the simple idea of connecting family and has matured into a celebration of the beauty of Aboriginal art and culture through contemporary Australian design. Our focus has been to provide a visual signature for a young nation born of an ancient continent.

Before starting the company I was involved in Indigenous affairs and began my career as a government researcher looking at how policies affected Aboriginal communities.

What’s been the biggest highlight of your 30 year journey with The Jumbana Group?

Like every business there have been many highs and lows. One high was launching retail products in Japan in partnership with textile giant Nitto Boseki; in France where we launched fashion collections at Pret a Porter and covered a Renaud car in Balarinji artwork; and also in the US where we created a three metre Coca Cola bottle artwork for the Atlanta CC Museum.

However with all of our international success, the success we finally, and after many years of hard work, achieved in Australia was the sweetest.

One night I sat up in bed and woke John up with the idea of covering a Qantas jumbo jet in Aboriginal art. What better Australian canvas could you get? After numerous negotiations, nearly giving up and also a bit of luck, ‘Wunala Dreaming’ was launched in 1994.

Sometimes it’s that one big break that unlocks all the other doors for you. Since then we’ve launched three other aircraft for Qantas. We’ve also worked with some of the country’s and world’s biggest brands like Nespresso, IBM, Village Roadshow, Caltex, Accor, CSIRO and British Airways.

In addition we’ve been involved in a number of nation building events including design for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games, the Walk for Reconciliation across Sydney Harbour Bridge and the Millennium New Year’s Eve celebrations in Sydney.

What have been some of your biggest struggles and how did you overcome them?

There were times in the first few years when things were tough. Any mother will tell you, it’s hard work juggling young children and a fledging business – there’s never enough time in one day and sleep, well, forget it! John and I also didn’t have a lot of experience managing a business so some of our decisions early on, particularly around how much we priced our products at and the deadlines we gave clients, weren’t great.

We overcame these by just pushing through and believing and trusting in our vision and in ourselves. We did have some help along the way at times. Once when we were really struggling, one great friend, who believed in what we were trying to achieve, kindly gave us a $10,000 groceries voucher which fed us for a whole year!

We also dreamt big and knocked on lots of doors. Eventually those doors opened and it wasn’t long before people starting coming to us.

How have you grown as a business woman throughout the last 30 years?

I had no idea what lay ahead when I set out in business. I was twenty seven years old with a toddler and a new baby. I have grown through the excitement, fulfilment, challenges and exhaustion of the journey. I have learnt to embrace and control risk, removing the fear of failure because it is impossible not to fail along the way. I have learnt over time that it’s worth persisting with a great idea until its time comes. I have grown in my ability to trust – to trust myself and our team. And I have learnt from experience to believe the right commercial relationships will only come from shared values. I’ve had the chance to grow through the opportunities I have had, through the colleagues and clients who have enriched my business experience, and through the tough job of balancing a family and a business.

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