Michael Connolly’s business Dreamtime Kullilla Art has come a long way in the 25 years since he started it with just a card table, tarp and 10 digeridoos.
With the support and guidance of wife Jo, he has developed as a businessman and artist taking his work around the world, opening his new Clontarf gallery in the middle of a pandemic and reaching new customers with a successful online store.
Throughout it all, he has advocated for the rights of genuine Aboriginal artists and railed against the fake art trade.
His achievements in business and advocacy during the past 25 years were recognised on Friday, when Moreton Bay Regional Council and Moreton Bay Region Industry and Tourism (MBRIT) presented Mr Connolly with a commemorative trophy.
Moreton Bay Regional Council Deputy Mayor Denise Sims, Councillors Karl Winchester and Sandra Ruck, Federal Member for Petrie Luke Howarth and Moreton Bay Region Industry and Tourism Chairman Shane Newcombe attended the presentation hosted by Queensland Tourism and Industry Council Deputy Chair Cameron Costello.
Mr Costello, a proud Quandamooka man from Moreton Bay, says Mr Connolly’s reputation in the industry extends across Queensland and Australia among first nation’s people for his achievements but also his advocacy for their art and culture.
“In the year of Indigenous tourism, what a fantastic opportunity to recognise one of the greats of the Indigenous tourism sector,” he says.
“What an amazing achievement is it … 25 years for Michael and his business.”
“Dreamtime Kullilla Art was established to transform people’s perceptions of Aboriginal culture – the people, the history, our art, our dance, our music – and from humble beginnings, it was founded in May 1996 at a local art market.
“Where we are standing today is phenomenal and who knows what the next 25 years will bring. Today, Dreamtime Kullilla Art’s developed into a cultural hub where people can confidently engage with authentic Aboriginal art whilst benefiting from enriched and deeper understanding of Aboriginal culture and history.
“This rich first nation’s background and unique way of interpreting his cultural heritage, Michael’s been able to represent a unique perspective in the visual and performing arts. He’s made such a change and difference to a whole lot of people and businesses, whether it’s engaging with people at markets through to business and local councils.”
Cr Sims says the milestone is particularly meaningful during the Year of Indigenous Tourism.
“I would love this to be the norm. I’d love to be able to go into a shop to see the variety, but also the depth … and genuine Indigenous art,” Cr Sims says.
“Michael, you and your family have made a significant contribution to tourism. It’s been a hard road for you, it’s been a struggle … hard work comes out in the end.”
Cr Winchester says Mr Connolly’s efforts during the past 25 years to improve cultural understanding and awareness in the community have been vital.
“You’re a real trailblazer and you’ve built an iconic body of work here and business as well. I also want to congratulate you on your advocacy for aboriginal artists more broadly.”
Mr Howarth says Mr Connolly has made a significant contribution to the community.
“I often say life is about relationships and Michael certainly has good relationships with people – not all people, but most people. What I like about Michael is he stands up for what he believes in and that’s really important in life to actually know what you believe in and go out and advocate for it. What I respect most about you is your work ethic,” he told Mr Connolly.
“Twenty-five years in small and family business is unique. It isn’t easy, you’ve had great support from your wife but everything that’s involved – paying yourself a wage, paying super, ordering stock, creating the stock … then you’re out selling it, marketing.”
Mr Newcombe says it is wonderful to be able to celebrate this local business success story.
“To celebrate this milestone in this year, we’re just so proud and proud to be able to work with you. On behalf of MBRIT and the tourism industry and our business community, thank you and congratulations,” Mr Newcombe says.
Mr Connolly says he has worked hard to learn about the business world, develop his art, grow his business and forge trade links around the world.
He has battled against fake art and unreputable dealers for the past 10 years.
“It’s been a journey, but it’s been about helping our community, artists and educating people,” he says.
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