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Bilum and Kiapa Stories

Photographed and re-told by Moale James. 

In collaboration with Little Match Productions for exhibition at the Cairns Court Gallery for Heru Pinkasova's debut performance work, Bilum Mamma. This project has been supported by the Australian Government through the Australia Council, its arts funding and advisory body.

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About the Exhibition

The exhibition, Bilum and Kiapa stories brings together a short-series of narratives generously shared by a small collection of women and men living in Cairns, Australia.


In order to develop this exhibition, the Storyteller, Moale James and her Mother, Ranu James put a callout to Cairns community asking them to share a story of their bilum or kiapa (as it is otherwise referred to for Motu speaking people). With the help of local community-connectors (as Moale refers to them), like Bubu Olive Tau Davis, Moale and Ranu met with ten Cairns community members to collect the story of their bilum.

The story didn’t have to be long, it didn’t have to be life-changing, it didn’t even have to be academic, it was just a moment for people with their precious bilum to connect and share stories. 

From womb to the grave, bilum have been carried through every phase of life and passed down through generations. These woven eight-figure-stitch bags are an item of both utility and beauty, not only in design but also in the stories and memories associated with them - whether it be a story of true love never forgotten; a memory of the baby swung in a bilum and sung to under a shaded tree in the village-garden; the entrepreneurial matriarch supporting her family or the bilum as a tool for recognising a friend in a sea of strangers.


The bilum has many purposes, but in reflection this project revealed that the bilum has the power to spark memories of people and place.  Just like each bilum was unique, so to was the story associated with them. 

So, I welcome you to step into this space which holds memories and stories. I thank all of those that shared their stories with us, thank you for your trust.

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Kissi Klink

Kissi sings the story of her bilum. Kissi's bilum is a family design and the back of the bilum tells a story of a woman escaping a domestic violence relationship.

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Ilovau Pople

While bilum bags are a popular item for one to carry, the bilum hat is just as popular. Ilovau shared with me photos of her travel around Europe with her bilum hat. Even on the other side of the world Ilovau was able to connect with communitywho recognised the eight-figure stitch - whether it be a bag or a hat.









Nyna Keneally

To learn more about how you can support Nyna and her sister, Nancy's dream of having accessible cervical cancer screening stations in remote parts of Papua New Guinea; you can email Nyna on:

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Adam Vai Delaney

Lo-ve, Lo-ve gadara namona

Lo-ve, Lo-ve gadara namona

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Learn more about Adam Vai Delaney's work as a Research Scholar. Adam's research focuses on Indigenous governance, law and politics. Read more here. 

Adam's grand-daughter is swung in her kiapa as she sleeps. 

Mark Davis

Mark Davis and his wife, Olive Tau Davis discuss their kiapa and the memories they trigger. 

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Rei-Jean McLean

Rei-Jean describes her Bubu as a 'creator' - in the words of Rei-Jean. 

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Maria Friend

Maria and Tony's Love Story - in the words of Maria. 

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Melinda Noipo

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Joyce McNeil


Malvyn Chan

Our bilum and kiapa remind us of our connection to people and place... just as they have held our precious belongings, so too do they protect our stories.  

About the Storyteller

While there are many terms Moale James could use to identify herself, she is first, a proud Papua New Guinean-Australian woman. Moale's family on her Mother's side are Motu people from Gaba Gaba village, Central Province in Papua New Guinea. Moale also holds lineage to Scotland and England on her Father's side. 

Moale was born in Darwin, Northern Territory on Larrakia Country ​where she was raised by a family of Educators and Artists (musicians, dancers, weavers, performers, storytellers). Moale has spent most of her life taking part in the many productions of Drum Drum, Sunameke and Gaba Musik. However, her first passion comes back to storytelling and captivating her community in the stories she tells. This passion has led her to write for a number of organisations like, Ascension Magazine, Asia Pacific Report and The Art Relations Journal - to name a few. This desire to share stories has also brought Moale into the world of arts production - creating opportunities for others to tell their own stories with their own voices. 

Moale also strongly believes that engaging in storytelling with different communities is a powerful tool to create harmony. She delves into this theory more in her Tedx talk, "Three cups of tea"

The desire to learn more about her creative practice has led her to study a Bachelor of Communications (Major in Journalism and Minor in Studies of Contemporary Society) at the Queensland University of Technology. ​Much of Moale's work has been focused on this passion for creating harmony between communities, sharing stories and building on her knowledge with her mentors, elders and through higher education.

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