Waltraud Reiner, world renowned Milliner and advocate for mental health, and her Hatmobile Audrey, hit the road each year to deliver millinery workshops in drought affected remote communities. This ‘Hats Off To the Outback’ millinery tour employs a philosophy of positive mental health through creativity and engages people in the skills of hat-making. In conjunction with Outback Arts, Waltraud provides this inclusive artistic experience to around 10 communities each year while raising awareness and support for mental health. This year we visited Walgett, ‘Yeranbah’ Angeldool, Brewarrina, Bourke, Cobar, The Marra, Nevertire and Coonamble. She believes that hats are more than just shelter for the head – they are a powerful means of self-expression. She has the ability to inspire those that she works with, encouraging others to look after their mental health, and embrace a positive lifestyle.
Most people around our region haven’t received a decent rain since 2016. And before that, there was a long decade of drought with a short reprieve in 2012. For most though, the last 15 years has felt like a struggle. Combined with other struggles and uncertainties that come with life on the land, the resilience of people eventually runs out. Organisations like Outback Arts aim to bring projects to these places and provide relief from the daily stresses and isolation. Women make up such an important part and backbone of outback communities and people like Waltraud come along and encourage women to feel themselves again. “So often country women think they can’t show themselves, or lack the opportunities to find time just to be with themselves in making beautiful things. There is so much need for this kind of help in the bush but so little opportunity.”
And of course, the other half of the equation is the men. Typically speaking, men tend to suffer in silence. For some reason it is harder for blokes to speak up, to show their vulnerability and fear. For the last couple of years though we have had some blokes join in on the workshops, enjoying a welcome distraction and time off farm while making a new work hat or fixing up an old one. This year a couple of them will be bringing their leather work skills with them teaching participants the craft of making hatbands. Having men join in on this type of activity creates a new open conversation for the community around wellbeing; something which history shows hasn’t always been encouraged or available.
Apart from hopefully bringing some rain with her, Waltraud also brings a wealth of knowledge and inspiration with her millinery skills and mental health advocacy. “I always found solace and support for myself in doing creative things. Country folk in Australia are often socially isolated, and lack opportunities to find time just to be with themselves in making beautiful things. When we create, we give ourselves a chance to connect to something within which often bypasses words and lets us see through colour and shapes.”
Waltraud is a milliner, educator and lover of hats. Through her own share of adversity in life Waltraud has learned that we are more alike as people than we are different. “We want to be seen, loved, and we all feel pain. All kinds of things happen to good people”, she says. “It’s what you do when they happen that matters.” And mental health matters to everyone.
The Hatmobile travels Australia wide and brings hat-making to rural communities or anyone wishing to make hats. You can book workshops for your community or business by calling 0425 745 299 or firstname.lastname@example.org