#wahomegrownhustle – Thalu

Words by Kylie Clifford – Costume Designer

Thalu was such a great experience for me. Having spent the past 12 years mainly in the advertising sector I enjoyed the fresh challenges and the return to drama.

At the start of my time in Roebourne / Yirramagardu, what really struck me was the colours of the Pilbara landscape and I knew that this would be so important to get right in the design and my own colour palette. The country is where these local stories were born and so the colours for each of the characters were taken from referencing the earth, water, salt plains and vegetation and contrasted with pops of colour reminiscent of the wildflowers.

I also wanted as much of the Ngarluma and Yindjibarndi culture to shine through in the design as possible, so I selected artworks from some regional arts centres (Roebourne Art Group and Yinja-Barnii). I had these digitally printed onto fabric for accents in the costumes and also used weavings sourced from Juluwarlu. It felt to me as if the stories represented in the artworks were important to also tell within the wider scope of our scripted narrative.

The uniqueness of the costumes was achieved by entwining this local and indigenous colour and pattern within a steam-punk aesthetic. To further achieve their scavenger, post-apocalyptic look there were some sourcing trips to the local tip, the beach and some scenic walk trails. I also had an art department crew member (Michelle Home) assist in costume for a couple of weeks to help with the way that scavenged props are incorporated into the costumes, especially for the character “Bits n Bobs” and also for the kids goggles, weapons and accessories.

The largest challenges were the remoteness and availability of resources. Many of the costumes were constructed (by the talented Sheridan Savage) with fabric taken from op-shopped garments or reinvented Kmart apparel. While we couldn’t often rely on the postal service, we were hugely grateful for the Karratha craft shop, which was at times a bit of a time warp but also incredibly stocked with an assortment of treasures. The lack of retail shopping did weigh heavily on the design though, plus there were a few of the adult characters that could have been that bit better had the mail arrived on time and I didn’t have to settle with what Kmart could offer up at 4pm the night before the shoot!

The other major challenges were the heat (38-43 degrees for the entire shoot) and the lack of on set amenities. Not having a costume truck meant inventing new systems and having to be very flexible with how the on-set team operated. It also meant late night laundromat sessions in the caravan park. These limitations were due to the incredible filming locations and accessibility on unsealed roads.

The cast. They were such great kids, all with unique and special attributes. Texx (Standby costume) and Rebeka (Costume Assistant) spent their days coaxing them into their respective costumes and they have my huge appreciation for this, as it was a real struggle in the early days to explain to non-trained child actors why continuity was important. They also liked to prank them by shifting their costumes when they turned their backs so they really had to be on guard! However, the kids were so warm and affectionate and getting to know them all was a privilege.

The highlight of the job for me was the final episode, where we made dresses for 7 of the “Nannas” – elders of the Roebourne community. I was helped during this week by a local attachment (Lilla Gagliano) who has her own fashion label and is also an artist. She hand painted our costumes with drawings representing local elements and landscapes. This elevated the design of the dresses, which were all repurposed from old clothes/bedsheets/fabrics from Salvos. Each dress colour resonated so well with each of them and were accented by handmade jewellery from weavings, crafts, printed coasters, tea towels and painted seeds found in the local art centres.

It was great job for me. The reward of the finished product certainly outweighed any of the challenges and I’d love to do it all again!

Thalu is currently available for streaming on SBS OnDemand: Here

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