Vicki Couzens wins $40,000 fellowship at Australia Council's National Indigenous Art Awards

AWARD: Vicki Couzens has received a $40,000 fellowship from the Australia Council at the National Indigenous Art Awards. Picture: supplied by the Australia Council.

AWARD: Vicki Couzens has received a $40,000 fellowship from the Australia Council at the National Indigenous Art Awards. Picture: supplied by the Australia Council.

Vicki Couzens​ wasn't quite sure how to accept the award that was bestowed upon her on Friday at the Sydney Opera House.

While flying to Sydney on Thursday, the multimedia artist, best known as a maker of possum skin cloaks (such as those worn in the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games opening ceremony), tried to come up with a few words for her acceptance speech.

"I'm overwhelmed and overawed," is about all she said she could muster.

The Gunditjmara​ woman, who is originally from Warrnambool but now lives in the Stony Rises near Camperdown, will receive a $40,000 fellowship from the Australia Council at the National Indigenous Art Awards.

The award recognises outstanding achievement in Indigenous arts and is intended to fund a big project over two years.

The mother of five said she planned to use the prize to explore women's business.

"When I applied, I had a project that I described, and it's been on the to-do list a long time, a thing I've been wanting to explore over quite a number of years, probably since when I first had children," Ms Couzens said.

"Birth, life, death … it's been on my radar, wanting to delve much deeper into women's business ... looking at the daughter, mother and granddaughter ... different birthing practices.

“So all that kind of stuff, when you go from being a child to a young woman, what are those rites of passage and how can we do some of that again. There's more that could be done."

Preserving the almost-lost Gunditjmara language, of which there are up to seven dialects, is also a passion she is dedicated to, after her father Ivan spearheaded the revival when he wrote a dictionary 20 years ago.

"I'm now looking into grammar reconstruction. That's like the bones of your language so we need our grammar developed to flesh out what we've got left of our language to build towards a new language and fluency." 

Couzens has also been involved in recent times with the Melbourne Museum Bunjilaka cultural centre as a senior researcher for language and community. 

Several of her paintings have been acquired by the National Gallery of Victoriam, and she has played a role in major public art projects such as one the bank of the Yarra River.