Tarni Jarvis walked into her first Richmond Emerging Aboriginal Leadership (REAL) Program session as a “mentally struggling” teenage girl.

Disconnected and down on confidence, she was attending school just twice a week.

Now as a Year 12 graduate, she is preparing to have her in class product design creation, an Indigenous dress titled Parramal Puna Punai, or Little Emu Girl, on display at the Melbourne Museum as part of their annual Top Designs Exhibition.

She credits the Korin Gamadji Institute (KGI) for the change.

“I went from a kid that most my teachers thought wouldn’t make it to Year 12, to one that was in the top 10 students in the state for a subject,” she said.

“KGI pushed me, and to be honest kind of shaped me, I became a different person by the end of the program. I made a lot of really big changes and they were all thanks to KGI.

“I was transitioning schools from Loretto College (an all-girls school in Ballarat) to Ballarat High when I first joined the program and it really helped me to figure it all out and to build enough confidence.”

Amazingly, after completing the REAL program, Jarvis had a 100 per cent school attendance rate.

And she needed every second of it given the felting of the Emu feather and Possum fur that made up the bulk of her design took over 100 hours.

“Design has always been a little passion of mine,” she explained.

“I have been dancing since I was eight and I have always been a part of making the props and costumes.

“We always used to just wear plain black dresses, so I thought ‘why don’t I make something a bit more, cool’.”

Jarvis decided on the cultural design of the dress with help from Indigenous community members, photographs and demonstrations that were made available from the Koorie Heritage Trust.

Sustainability was another key factor in the decision process.

“There is a farm in Tasmania, and they believe in only farming native animals,” she said.
“They do it the traditional way where you don’t let any of the animal go to waste, and you only take as much of it as you need.

“The materials did not come cheap, the Possum fur was about $150 a kilogram, and the Emu similar, it was worth it to stay in culture.”

Included in the many exhibitors that will enjoy the display of Indigenous culture are the many friends Jarvis made throughout the KGI program.

“I keep in contact with a lot of them and see them around, we all have a group chat on snap chat and have been speaking in that for the past two years,” she said.

“It’s a great thrill to have the dress in the display, but I also cannot wait to dance in it once I get it back.”

Jarvis will continue her design hobby on the side whilst completing a traineeship at WorkSafe where she has taken up a Cert 4 in work health and safety.