Designing a brighter future

Designing a brighter future

Artist Dion Beasley.

Art has always been an important communication tool in Indigenous culture, used to record history, tell stories of the Dreamtime and share knowledge. For Dion Beasley art allows him to communicate his passion to the world: dogs.

Born with muscular dystrophy, Dion contracted meningitis when a baby which left him profoundly deaf. He grew up in the small Aboriginal township of Owairtilla, also known as Canteen Creek, about 300 km from Tennant Creek in the Northern Territory.

In need of extra care he relocated to Tennant Creek in 2002 to live with his Aunty, where he attended Tennant Creek Primary School. At that stage he had minimal communication skills, was shy and withdrawn. Dion’s story could have ended here but has an inspirational twist. It is at this stage that Dion’s guardian angel appeared and his development began.

After working with Dion for some time, retired school teacher Joie Boulter noticed that he was extremely fond of drawing. The majority of Dion’s work included dogs of all descriptions. It was through his drawings that Dion began to communicate with others.

With Joie’s assistance Dion began to learn basic sign language, became more settled and started to grow in confidence. The drawing continued, often depicting daily life, with dogs as the prominent characters. Joie noticed the quality of his work and “considered what a wonderful thing it would be if Dion was able to develop and use his talents in making a better future for himself.” An ambitious plan was hatched.

Initially, 40 t-shirts were printed in Tennant Creek with Dion’s dog designs. The unique styles of Dion’s drawings were well received so Joie and her husband Tony committed to forming and funding the “Cheeky Dog” company. Darwin based designer Stan Whiting was approached to see if Dion’s drawings were marketable. Stan saw the potential and assisted to ‘clean up’ the original drawings, prepare them for screen-printing and design the company’s logo.

Having no previous experience in the business field, Joie and Tony ‘limped along’ and needed professional assistance, fast. A report was developed on the state of the business at that time and an application was made to the Northern Territory Department of Small Business for assistance.

Joie and Tony were encouraged to contact IBA for further advice. Staff in the Adelaide IBA office, in conjunction with a business consultant, assisted in: reviewing the

  • trust arrangements set up on behalf of Dion in order that his future needs would be met through the business
  • the areas of contracting of the manufacturing, marketing and distribution of the products in consideration of a royalty and/or licence fee
  • ensuring that trade mark and copyright requirements were suitable for the business and that protection would be provided through the Intellectual Property licence
  • researching markets for the product and contacting a range of potential distributors

Tony and Joie arranged for the “Cheeky Dog” products to be supplied and printed by a company in Queensland, instead of Darwin, saving on costs.

The result was the formation of a unique company, created to provide support for Dion and ensure he has a financially stable future. The company pays royalties per item to Dion for the use of his designs and pays a dividend into a trust at the end of the financial year.

The art world soon tuned in to Dion’s work.

In 2005, Dion was awarded the Best Indigenous Memento Award. The Memento Awards showcase fresh, contemporary and commercially viable craft, art and design that reflects unique characters and the Australian spirit. He was also a finalist in the 2006 Northern Territory Young Achiever awards.

In 2008, Dion was given a grant by NT Artback to produce a limited edition of prints. 10 screen prints were exhibited in Darwin, Alice Springs and Tennant Creek. Dion’s drawings were also exhibited in Sharjah, United Arab Emirates, in mid-2008.

Joie swells with pride as she speaks of how Dion’s work is appreciated by a cross section of the population and this has resulted in raising Dions profile within the community.

“I feel it is important that Dion is valued as a contributing member of the community and is treated with the respect he deserves. Many people have been won over by the twinkle in his eyes and infectious smile. A comment often passed is ‘his drawings make me laugh’”.

Joie was honoured as the Citizen of the Year in the 2009 Australia Day Presentation in Tennant Creek for her tireless work with Dion and the Cheeky Dog label. Every effort is being made to ensure Dion is able to pursue his love of drawing. It is hoped that his artwork will provide him the greatest long-term benefit.

Dion Beasley has been dealt a pretty tough hand but with the assistance of his guardian angel, Joie Boulter, friends, family and IBA, he is endeavouring to make the most of what is available to him.

Certainly an inspiration to us all.

Dion’s designs can be viewed at