When the borders of the Northern Territory isolated the world due to COVID-19, local milliner Belinda Osborne had an idea.
She was inspired by the challenges experienced at the time and envisioned a headdress that captured the beauty trapped within her home turf.
“We weren’t so much locked in, we were locked in, we were caged in something that is quite beautiful,” said Ms Osborne.
He had just five days to make the piece and submit it in time for Australia’s premier millinery competition, the 2021 Myer Millinery Award.
With 12-hour shifts in her studio, Darwin’s milliner measured and cut hundreds of intricate feathers to create a lattice headdress that could be placed on the wearer’s head and confined within.
It was worth the effort. Her piece, Forever Bound, won first prize in the coveted competition and made Ms. Osborne an overnight household name in millinery circles nationally and internationally.
“Winning was a huge achievement for me, it’s an absolute dream for a milliner in Australia,” she said.
His big win quickly filled his order book and from his Darwin studio he now special orders for clients in the UK, USA, Canada, Ireland, Singapore and Dubai.
Growing up with the scents and colors of the mountain its greatest influence
The 42-year-old credits her childhood growing up on a five-acre block outside Darwin for inspiring her art and where it has taken her.
“Growing up with the local fauna and flora that is specific to our area has really influenced a lot of my designs,” he said.
“I try to incorporate as much of the territory into my designs as even if you don’t see it, I can see it.”
Growing up an only child, Mrs. Osborne’s life in the bush was lonely and free.
He grew up in rural Darwin long before developers moved there, and when houses in Humpty Doo were few and far between.
“We could ride bikes or horseback riding down the street with our friends…it was absolutely wonderful,” he said.
When she wasn’t playing outside, Belinda said she was indoors “doing crafts” with her mother Joan, known around town as “Darwin’s curtain lady.”
“I did art all through school…my mom was sneaky, so I was definitely a sneaky kid, she was always up to something.”
After finishing school, Belinda worked in fashion, studied interior design, and worked in NT public service for nearly a decade.
But her passion for millinery never wavered and she continued to make hats for people, as well as care for her young son and work full time.
“In the beginning, the orders were really only coming very close to the time of the Darwin Cup or the Melbourne Cup… so it was very intense for the four weeks leading up to both events,” he said.
When she turned 40, Ms. Osborne decided to take a leap into the unknown, leaving her secure government job to take her millinery to the next level.
She estimates she’s made hundreds of pieces during her 15 years as a milliner, saying she “gets into a zone” when she’s making them.
Mother and daughter’s shared passion comes to light in surprise reveal
Belinda Osborne said she’s put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into her work and admits some pieces can be hard to pull apart.
She said the “strangest thing” in her millinery career was discovering that her mother, Joan, was also a talented milliner in Adelaide in the 1950s and 1960s, but she never told anyone.
“She said ‘are you making hats and millinery?’ and I said ‘yes I am’ and she said ‘I was a milliner’ and lo and behold, we’ve never had that conversation before.”
Belinda said that her mother went on to teach her millinery techniques that were used in the past.
Joan died just before Ms. Osborne’s millinery work began to gain attention and she wasn’t alive to see her big win in 2021 and break onto the world millinery stage.
However, he said his mother continues to influence his designs, even appearing in his pieces from time to time.
“She was a bit of a material hoarder, so I have some of her boxes of stuff with me,” he said.
“Every once in a while a hat might need a little special item and I’ll go and put a little bit of it in there and I know she’d be so proud.”
This story is part of a special Born and Raised series, celebrating the work of notable Territorians.