Travelling through Australia’s vast landscapes, Maori artist Alice Spittle’s hands are busy creating and sharing her love for traditional weaving. Known as raranga, the traditional Maori art involves weaving harvested Harakeke (New Zealand Flax) but it symbolises something greater than merely creating aesthetic items. Ahead of her visit to the Coal Coast for this year’s Jamboree Creative Escape, she explains the significance of weaving. For her and many others in the community raranga is her meditation, a way of connecting to the land and her culture.

A decision to tap into her creative side flowed out of being a young mother on the Kapiti Coast in New Zealand and feeling lost. She met local Maori artists which inspired her to start painting before taking a course in Maori art and design at the Te Wānanga O Raukawa (A Maori University) just out of Wellington where she learnt Maori Art, weaving, history and language. “It was a great foundation and that was really what opened me up to the world of weaving,” Alice recalls.

Moving to her hometown in Christchurch, she joined a weavers’ group and, albeit being the youngest by 20 years, she recognised the talent around her which gave her such a huge appreciation for Maori Arts and the practice of weaving.

Now she lives in a campervan with her husband, Luke, and eight-year-old daughter, Ruby, chasing sunrises across Australia, collaborating and creating together and sharing her weaving skills through intricate workshops. With Alice’s experience in arts and Luke’s experience in media and communications, the pair merged their skills to create their own platform called Art and Wellbeing and the Fibre Arts Festival held on the Sunshine Coast to support local talent and promote the important philosophy of art and wellbeing.

Creativity is becoming increasingly linked to good physical and mental health, as experts are noticing the benefits creativity can have on anxiety and self-esteem. Alice sees this during her raranga workshops. “There are huge benefits for the wellbeing side of things, people are happier, and I see it so much going around Australia and teaching,’ she says.

Before deciding on teaching workshops, she was invited to teach Maori Art, painting and weaving at a mental health organisation in New Zealand for victims of family violence. “I noticed this huge change in people coming together, that sense of achievement when they were creating,” Alice says. “I saw how much it meant to people and how well they were when they were creating.”

Raranga illustrates the impact art can have on wellbeing by bringing people together and offering a safe creative space. “It is the importance of nurturing themselves. As an example, one woman I met at a workshop was in a very male dominated job and this was her opportunity to be in a creative and nurturing space where she could just sit and talk with other women,” Alice says.

Alice’s mother always called her a ‘people-weaver’, describing her love for connecting people, which reflects the cultural importance of gathering or ‘hui’ in Maori culture. “We have this whakatauki (Maori proverb), which says, E hara taku toa, I te toa takitahi ēngari he toa taku tini, meaning, my strength is not from myself alone, but from the strength of the group,” Alice says.

Comprised of three main elements raranga (weaving) involves harvesting, preparing and making. Harvesting the Harakeke (New Zealand Flax) connects people with the land and nature. “I get to have my feet on the earth while connecting to the plant and Papatuanuku (mother earth) that is really important to me in terms of my grounding and wellbeing,” Alice explains.

Secondly, preparing involves stripping the leaves into sizes, doing hapine (softening) boiling, dying and planning. “I love to sit with my friends and family while we work. It feels easier and enjoyable to sit, talk, laugh, share and prepare together,” Alice says.

Lastly the making process embodies her own space, where being busy creating a pattern becomes reflection and meditation.

As well as bringing people closer to nature and with each other, raranga carries a significant cultural connection. It has brought her and her family closer to their Maori culture, and through workshops Alice enjoys sharing the Maori traditions, Tikanga (protocol) processes and ceremonies. “There is a real need for doing art and bringing people together and weaving is my most favourite thing to do,” Alice says.

The Fibre Arts Festival in October and the National Weavers Hui held in Christchurch are only a few of the upcoming events keeping the blooming artist’s hands busy. Join her to harvest, collaborate and create in the heart of the forest at this year’s Jamboree Creative Escape at Mt Keira.

Jamboree is a creative weekend escape held at Mt Keira in Wollongong from the 28th to the 30th of October. This unique event provides an inclusive space to unwind, connect with nature and experience creative workshops to strengthen mental wellbeing.

Find out more at www.jamboreesouthcoast.com.au

Images : Katie Bennett