Living Neale Whitaker gives a nod to Australiana style.
Botanical prints are no longer kitsch if new native Australian designs are anything to go by
Think of Australiana and May Gibbs’s illustrations of the gumnut babies, Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, probably spring to mind. Cute, sure, but not exactly cutting edge. More banksia than Banksy. But something’s afoot in the design world, and those endearing little bubs – part human, part seedpod – might just be the Next Big Thing.
Take this season of The Block for example. We saw Victorian couple Jason and Sarah using Banksia wallpaper by Porter’s Paints (porterspaints.com) to stunning effect in one of their guest bedrooms. I declared Australian natives a “thing” halfway through the series. There were the brilliant day-glo Pop Australiana prints by Roofus Australia that put a mid-century spin on grevilleas and bottlebrush, and photographer Katie Clulow’s atmospheric Obelia Gum Blossom (both at theblockshop.com.au). And while not strictly an Australian native (it shares that honour with South Africa), the figurative Protea by Perth-based artist Anya Brock featured in fellow Western Australians Ronnie and Georgia’s hallway.
It’s fair to say Australian natives are having their time in the sun, designwise, something Utopia Goods founder Sophie Tatlow (utopiagoods.com) puts down to “Australia’s cultural cringe finally becoming unfashionable”.
Tatlow and her partner, artist Bruce Slorach, founded their design studio in 2012 and have led the native charge with a vibrant, affordable range of textiles, prints, wallpaper and home and fashion accessories bearing names such as Waratah, Angophora and Flowering Gum. Tatlow describes Utopia Goods as “a love letter to Australia”, a collection that “draws attention to and pays tribute to the essence of this country”. She feels local design has looked beyond our shores for inspiration for too long and that – hopefully and finally – “we’re maturing and feeling proud to say it loud in all aspects of our identity”.
That sentiment is shared by Sydney-based artist Kate Swinson, who launched her Native Swinson (nativeswinson.com.au) studio in 2016, inspired by a “rural upbringing and consequential love of the natural world”.
Swinson sees this reinterpretation of Australiana as “beautiful and contemporary, rather than simply something kitsch and harsh”. Both she and Tatlow describe their work in terms of “authenticity” – it’s a word that has more currency today than ever before. “We live in complicated and challenging times,” Tatlow says. “We need to spend our dollars on things with longevity that we love.”
“Australians are maturing and proud to say it loud in all aspects of identity”
IN FULL BLOOM (from top) Victorian couple Jason and Sarah’s Banksia wallpaper on The Block was a hit; an Australian native print Byron Bay-based photographer Lisa Sorgini.