Billy Missi’s Torres Straight designs translated to light at Bulmba-ja

Billy Missi was undoubtedly one of the Torres Strait’s most prolific and respected artists, working at the start of the 21st Century from the island base of Moa, drawing inspiration and cultural guidance from his homlands of Mabuaig and leveraging his practice from a new base in Cairns, prior to his early passing in 2014.

At the time, he was working with a number of collaborators and galleries and planned to continue his ongoing professional relationship with KickArts and curator Russell Milledge. Over the last years KickArts, with Justin Bishop at the helm, worked closely with the partner and children of Missi to assist them in establishing the Billy Missi Estate.

Now in 2020, despite the interruptions of the COVID-19 global pandemic, the family and friends of Pal’n and the Billy Missi Estate vowed to continue the ongoing collaboration with KickArts/NorthSite and have put the finishing pieces together of a major retrospective exhibition of the late artist’s work with NorthSite Contemporary Arts, presented as a physical exhibition and satellite virtual event in association withCIAF’s 2020 digital edition.

The opportunity to not only see the realisation of Pal’n’s major works in exhibition but also in a new artform, has been an important and rewarding experience for the family and friends of the late artist, in particular for his children Amos, Peggy and Edna.

Billy was always so committed to his artwork, and we beleived in him and supported him, the children were still so young. Now as they are coming of age they can again see their father;s works and hear those stories and meet up with their family here through this exhibition and special time. It was amazing to see Billy’s work and the kids, what it means for them, and not only the artworks that the family has seen before, but the purple clan design works on the lights on the building, that was amazing to see. It meant a lot to me and his family.” said the mother  of his children, Edna Tom

Exhibition curator Russell Milledge also worked to translate significant artworks from the exhibition, into the new largescale digital public artworks visible on the Bulmba-ja Arts Centre Facade. “We worked with some of the key linocuts in the exhibition and the linear nature of the designs translated extremely well to the long-format of the facade. Designs from the artworks Gudakathurai, and the fishbone design in the artwork Constellation and Kinship, 2009 translated magnificently and continue to impart important information, in Billy’s designs and words.”

NorthSite Director Ashleigh Campbell stated, “it’s wonderful to have this digital asset available and to be commissioned by Arts Queensland to work alongside First Nations Artists to recontextualise their works into these new large digital public artworks. As part of this commissioning series, we’re also working with young IndigeDesign Lab creatives so that they are able to learn how to create for the digital space and also see their new designs on the digital facade.”


“This term translates along the line of, ‘ask and it shall be given unto you’. In our culture it’s very important that permission is sought from the appropriate people before you take something. For example, you must ask the dugong clan leader before spearing dugong for ceremonies or for the events of neighbouring tribes. To marry into another family, you as a young man would have to talk to your Wadhuam | Uncles. You must ask before you break fruits, such as coconuts, from certain trees that m ay belong to other family members. It also extends to the use of any intellectual property associated to clans or tribes.”

Billy Missi, statement for artwork created Djumbunji Press, 2008

Billy Miss Bulmnba-ja Digital Facade public artwork

Consultation (Gudakathurai), 2020 created in consultation with the Billy Missi Estate is screening on the Bulmba-ja Facade for the next 3 months.
The Bulmba-ja Facade. NorthSite’s Facade project is supported by the Queensland Government through Arts Queensland
Artwork on Bulmba-ja Facade created with the Billy Missi Estate
Consultation (Gudakathurai)
digital animation
LED strips on building
Courtesy of the Billy Missi Estate and NorthSite Contemporary Arts.


Dear Arts Friends

The last weeks have been massive for the arts in Australia, with widespread announcements of closures, job losses, program changes, cancellations, funding redeployments, ministerial roundtables, and notification of the major Australia Council of the Arts’ multiyear organisational funding program, which has seen many much-loved arts companies missing out or being defunded as of next year. A perfect storm, in a time of global health and socio-economic hardship.

On Friday we received notification that we are one of 95 companies in Australia, successful in a massive year-long bid to gain federal arts funding support from 2021 -2024. We’d put forward a bold vision, new strategic plans, forward budgets and articulated the importance of supporting contemporary artists and the arts sector in the north through our future programs.

The Australia Council wrote:

Congratulations  on your successful Four Year Funding (FYF) application to the Australia Council for the Arts.

Your Stage 2 application was approved by the Visual Arts Panel and endorsed by the Board of the Australia Council.

You were successful in a very competitive environment and we look forward to supporting the great work your organisation will deliver in the coming years. 

When we embarked on the assessment of multiyear funding for 2021-24 the seismic impacts of COVID19 had not been imagined, let alone hit our communities, society and sector. In light of these impacts we have had to rethink how we best assist the sector to navigate through the challenges posed by the current crisis. While we realise there are no perfect solutions, we have taken a number of steps to mitigate the damage and contribute to the short to medium-term feasibility of the sector. In this context, we will offer reduced funding in 2021 to organisations approved for funding in the 2021-24 FYF program. This will allow us to provide support through to 31 Dec 2021 to many of the current FYFOs that were unsuccessful with their applications for 2021-24 FYF.

While, the above announcement is extremely positive news for the arts in Far North Queensland and a massive relief for this organisation, following years of financial hardship and limitations, the elation is dampened by a sobering reality of the number of defunded organisations, the implications of that for future programs and the increased challenges faced by all now.

(412 organisations initially applied, with 162 invited to submit full applications. A stark reminder of a pattern of underfunding in the arts, witnessed in 2015 when 65 organisations lost federal organisational funding. In fact, this industry has consistently been calling on the Government to top up its arts funding over the last years. Recent analysis shows that the Australian Government is committing 18.9 per cent less expenditure per capita to arts and culture than it did a decade ago and that expenditure as a percentage of GDP remains below the OECD average.”[1])

We empathise with the huge undertaking of the pool of national arts experts, and thank the peer assessors and Australia Council staff who no-doubt rigorously assessed all applications, then delayed the announcement in light of COVID-19, to work to redeploy funds where possible and create a new Resilience Fund in these challenging times.

Over the past weeks, NorthSite has joined with peak bodies and other organisations, creatives and artsworkers to put forward recommendations to the initial Australian Government COVID package announcements, ensuring our casual workforce and freelancers are not missed.

Given the financial and implicit value of arts, the sector has called for a necessary stimulus package specifically for the arts – to ensure a creative future in Australia. Creative Industries leaders have met with the Minister for Communications, Cyber Safety and the Arts, The Hon Paul Fletcher MP, and put forward a united proposal for a targeted support package, (2% of the industry’s $111billion contribution to the economy). This industry specific-package would save thousands of jobs & companies, ensuring that the sector is able to support the nation as it emerges from COVID-19. So far this has not been considered by the Government.

You can read the open letter sent to Ministers and MPs signed by 130+ artists, collectives and companies including NorthSite here.    Below is a letter sent to relevant MPs for this region, prior to the final day of Australian Parliament on 8 April until August 2020.

We’ll keep working to support artists up here, rejig our programs and stand united with the rest of the arts & cultural sector and wider Australia at this most difficult time.

Keep an eye out for new programs and conversations with artists over coming weeks.

Take good care.

Ashleigh Campbell and team


See Visual Arts Advocacy and surveys for completion:

For a full roundup of actions taken by National Association for the Visual Arts and Media Entertainment & Arts Alliance see the following links. Artists, musicians, writers, performers etc, all creatives who’ve list work are encouraged to complete their surveys.

See Arts Hub coverage on the 4 year funding topic:



See Australia Council for the Arts’ response package and sector information including a guide for navigating government assistance:



See Queensland-specific information and Arts Queensland support for artsists:



[1] The Big Picture, public expenditure on artistic, cultural and creative activity in Australia | A New Approach | Australian Academy of the Humanities

Image: Glenn Sloggett, Lose, 2019. Photo by J Forsyth. Copyright remains with the artist, used by NAVA to accompany the industry open letter to Parliamentarians.


Good morning.

As we take all precautions to keep our staff, artists and audiences safe and supported at this time, we will not be opening the doors to NorthSite at Bulmba-ja today and will not be physically open to the public again, until after an inevitable period of greater disruption to everyday life and the issue of  COVID-19 virus passes.

Our small team of four, needs to prioritise today to ensure we swiftly adapt given the rapidly changing global circumstances.

As of 19 March 2020, we’ll be working online as required, reduced hours. Certainly, not what I thought we’d be doing when we opened the new KickArts as NorthSite only two weeks ago!

Although there are still no officially confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Cairns, Cape York, Torres Strait or wider FNQ, COVID-19 is a global pandemic. Please be cautious and take this viral health issue seriously, but do not panic.

Follow the advice of the World Health Organisation and Queensland Health, particularly for your area.

You are not alone in this and everyone you know is experiencing the waves of emotion as we realise situation at hand and the effect that closures will have on our daily lives. The unknowns are challenging and everyone will be at different stages and situation throughout this course, but keep a positive and rational approach. Smile at your neighbours. We will get through.

After two days of testing of remote working capabilities, I feel there are many things we will be able to do to help manage stress, information overload and our mental wellness at this time. This is what we’ll be focusing on when we pick up our programs again.

  • Get outside and soak up sunshine – the sky is still there and with water a seed will still grow
  • Keep moving
  • Get creative – with more time and much emotion, great art will be made. Write and tell your stories.
  • Get connected – social distance doesn’t have to be emotionally isolating but limit your time online
  • Daily structure will be important
  • Look after those around you

Across the world social distancing measures are being implemented and may be required to flatten the curve. This will affect our ability to undertake our line of business- therefore we are moving now, so we can keep working through this period.

We encourage each and every one of you to continue best personal hygiene practices and talk with your households, families and friends about how you will approach this difficult time.

We are working through the immediate changes and challenges and then we’ll be here online for artists as we engage in new ways.

We ask that if you have urgent questions, please phone 07 4050 9496.

We have set up remote access and phone lines. If you can, just calmly gather passwords and make sure you’ve got what you need to log into online portals.

Stay squeaky 🖐💦🤚

Stay safe

Ashleigh Campbell, Director


We want to wish you all the best at this time and provide an update on the measures we are taking in the best interest of our artists and audiences in these uncertain times.

On 2 March, we re-opened our doors to the public following Arts Queensland’s renovation, and the opening of Bulmba-ja on 29 February.

After a long 18 months away from home and an exciting transition from KickArts to NorthSite, it’s been truly wonderful to be back doing our business alongside JUTE Theatre Company, Miriki Performing Arts and Pryce Centre for Arts and Culture.

An in-bound travel ban from affected countries, in place from 1 February was noticeable on the streets of Cairns with a huge drop in tourist numbers, so we acted early on COVID-19 awareness introducing strict ‘stay-home-if-sick policy’ and then introduced new personal hygiene practices from our first day of opening the NorthSite Store and galleries on 2 March 2020. Wet ones all round!!

Arts Queensland also increased cleaning of the building and surfaces and we continue to follow Queensland Department of Health advice and guidelines.

On Friday afternoon following the Prime Minister’s address, we began to have conversations about the responsibility of holding an Artists’ Party in two weeks time.

As we work with a lot of wonderful mob and the care of all our artists, audiences and the Elders in our communities is of upmost importance, we made the tough call postpone the first long-awaited exhibition openings. While the numbers were over 300 but capped under the recommended limit of 500 people for social gatherings, we tried to anticipate a situation two weeks ahead, and acted, due to the span of attendees travelling from Far North Indigenous communities and various cities and the need to provide some clarity around guests’ travel plans.

On Saturday we postponed the NorthSite Opening – Artists’ Party. Thank you to everyone who has pre-booked tickets. There will be another time to really celebrate when we reopen.

Last night (Sunday 15 March), as a precautionary measure we cancelled flights booked for people flying in from communities for an exhibition project meeting taking place here over next days. A difficult and disappointing decision for the Missi family, for an exhibition already once postponed through building delays, but a precautionary measure we are glad we made. The planning continues when things calm here with planning and more is known about the situation we face.

All along the way we are assessing the immediate situation and following the WHO and Qld Health daily advice.

Due to the size of our small team, we also made a call to immediately treat today (Monday) as a work-from-home day, testing the online working capacity of our team.

We’ve begun assessing the impact of a potential closure, a process of communication with affected stakeholders who are affected this week (16-20 March), cancelling our artist-in-residence with Peter Morrison who was ready for his second day back with us, drawing towards his upcoming exhibition. For the time being, school group visits and other programs are postponed due to staff capacity, as we prepare for a potential temporary closure and until more information becomes available on the situation locally. Sorry Mossman State School – we were so looking forward to seeing you!


The NorthSite Galleries and NorthSite Store are also closed for today 17 March as staff undertake flexible working arrangements and take a day now, to look after their family’s needs at this time. It’s important to make sure you have access to required prescriptions etc as we don’t know timelines for inevitable closures. We should all plan for various scenarios and how we’ll ride them out.

NorthSite has done an enormous amount of work behind the scenes this past year – so we have a great strategic plan and program in place and we are looking at ways that we’ll to continue to work and share art with you. Keeping things ticking at this time is important.

We are continuing to undertake our work and are awaiting information from Arts Queensland, as the state arts body and building management. We anticipate and plan for a temporary closure at some point. It’s an ever evolving situation.

What is clear now, is that we will continue to share the stories of the North and support artists as best we can.

We’re in this together. Take care

Ashleigh Campbell, Director