20 Apr Jilkminggan Op Shop Opening
When a group of women from the tiny Northern Territory community Jilkminggan decided to hold a fundraising drive, they expected to get just a few bags of second-hand clothing.
Then a social media call out for donations ended up going viral across Australia.
Now, in part due to the generosity of hundreds of strangers, Jilkminggan is celebrating its first op shop.
“Thank you to all the people who supported us,” said Betty Willie, one of the Jilkminggan women behind the project.
Nestled between the Roper River and a long stretch of outback wilderness, Jilkminggan has just one general store, a school, health clinic and no mobile phone reception.
Jobs are scarce and unemployment is high, although lots of people work five days a week in government welfare programs.
In March, women involved in a workshop program at Jilkminggan’s newly allocated arts and crafts space started brainstorming small business ideas with help from Indigenous business facilitator Enterprise Learning Projects (ELP).
Some of the women were interested in selling art and handmade handicrafts but had been running short on paint, canvases, sewing materials and production space for many years.
So ELP coordinator Tanya Egerton offered to help the women fundraise.
“We came up with the idea collectively that we wanted to run an op shop [in Jilkminggan] that would create the seed funding to be able to buy more materials and in turn give people the grounding in business that they could then use in their own enterprises,” Ms Egerton said.
But the women had no spare second-hand clothes to sell.
Ms Egerton decided to reach out to an old friend in Sydney — a Bondi Junction hair salon owner with the gift of the gab and hopefully some customers with too many pre-loved clothes in their wardrobes.
Kelly Wright was instantly on board “hook, line and sinker” and helped Ms Egerton re-post a flyer to social media asking people to drop off donations at her salon.
Overnight the social media post started gaining traction and within a few days it had been shared 28,000 times.
“The clothing kept coming,” Ms Wright said of the first few days of the campaign.
As other hair salons and stores came on board as collection points, Australian households from the Gold Coast to Adelaide rifled through their wardrobes for culturally appropriate long dresses, workwear pants and baby clothes for Jilkminggan.
“We had to be sponsored for a vehicle to collect all the clothing to take it to storage. It just kept coming,” Ms Wright said.
“Everybody was coming in and wanted to tell us a story when they were dropping off their pre-loved clothing.
“Some people had children who’d done a swap with their school and come out to Jilkminggan. Other people had worked there. It was really wonderful to see everybody’s responses.”
This week a staggering 500 cartons of donations arrived by truck to ELP’s base in Katherine — a country town about 90 minutes’ drive from Jilkminggan — and several ute-loads of donations were then sent to the community’s arts and craft centre for sorting.
As women sat in a circle unpacking, folding and tagging donations, some locals got in early to bag everything from baseball caps and teddy bears through to pyjama pants with cocktails printed onto them.
“We usually go to Darwin, Katherine or Mataranka to buy clothes but sometimes it’s very hard to get to transport to town,” shopper Virginia said.
“Everybody is proud of the community for the shop that just opened.”
Women working on the project also learned to operate cash registers, write receipts and even formed their own makeshift lay-by system for shoppers that came to the store’s grand opening on Wednesday.
As shoppers bought clothes for as little as a few dollars, Jilkminggan elders, Ms Wright, Ms Egerton and others involved in the project enjoyed a barbecue and mused about the Australian community’s unexpected response.
“We thought we’d receive not much clothes. Not we’ve got trucks and how many clothes came in? It was shocking,” Trudy Farrar said.
“I don’t know why it went so big,” local Indigenous corporation administration worker Helena Lardy said.
“I really don’t know, but it’s much appreciated and we’ll do the best with the materials that have been donated. We’re just in wonderment.”
Ms Willie, who has started making tops and skirts in the past few months, Larissa Daylight, who operated the cash register, and enthusiastic crafter Ms Farrar said they were hoping to put store takings towards long-term artistic projects.
“We’d like to do lino printing and sewing and other people doing art. We’d like to sell that at Barunga Festival,” Ms Farrar said.
After that nearby arts and culture camping festival in June, Ms Egerton said the long-term future of Jilkminggan’s op shop would be evaluated and the community would decide what to do with all its excess clothing donations.
Ideas include putting the clothes towards business enterprise fundraisers for other communities or pop-up market stalls held by the Jilkminggan women.
Story Credit: Emila Terzon, ABC Darwin