Meet the maker: Mel Telfer

Mel Telfer

This is the first in a series of posts about the artists and makers on Flinders Island & the Furneaux Group of islands.  Please indulge me as I introduce myself as the first maker!

Tell us a little about yourself:

My partner grew up on Flinders and always wanted to come home again. When our girls were young we moved here, and it's been fantastic for them to grow up in this incredible community. When I was a child we moved around a fair bit, which I think has contributed to my restless nature. Every few years I seem to move house, change jobs or find another way to shake up my daily life!

I spent my primary school years on Kangaroo Island in SA, on my grandpa's soldier settler farm. We grew most of our own food back then, including making our own butter and bacon. Farming in that area seemed to have fallen in a bit of a hole in the 80s, so my parents did all this from necessity, not from lifestyle choice. As I kid I wasn't aware of the economics, but loved helping milk the cow and pick the apricots from our extensive orchard.  And apparently we liked wild woolly hats:

Mel as a child on the Leyland tractor

We moved to Tassie when I was 10, and I went to a high school with a fabulous Outdoor Ed program which exposed me to sports and activities I hadn't contemplated before.  This encouraged me to step out of my quiet shyness and into physically and emotionally challenging situations.  Why would I play netball when I could go rock climbing, or kayaking, or skiing?  Non-competitive sports inspired me to improve my own results instead of comparing myself or my team with others.

After Year 12 I took myself across the country to Perth, WA for uni.  The BSc went well; the BVMS not so well!  I think I got a little distracted by creative pursuits and dreams.  After bumming around for a few years in various jobs (like packing chickens at Steggles, and teaching rock climbing at summer camp in North Carolina) I took myself back to uni to add a GradDipEd to my BSc. Eventually I settled down, had a couple of fabulous girls, then made the move back to Tassie with dreams of growing our own food.  (Those Kangaroo Island years were pretty influential apparently.  Wish we had the Leyland again!)

Now that we've built a cosy, light-filled house on Flinders I feel I have a settled home base, so I keep myself busy by always trying to learn new skills instead of looking over the next horizon. Currently I seem to be dividing my time between learning website building, leatherwork and trapeze!  Well, dreaming of learning trapeze.  I think I need to clone myself, really. Perhaps that's my new direction...

How did the idea for the Swamphen come about?

My friend Helen and I felt it was high time Flinders had somewhere for local creatives to display and sell their knitting, their woodwork, whatever. The local art gallery is awesome for those who have enough stuff for a month-long dedicated exhibition, but if you only make five chopping boards a year you don't have many options for connecting them with appreciative customers. Enter: The Purple Swamphen, where locals can make one thing or 50 things, any time of year, and have the opportunity to sell them.

Helen & Mel, founders of The Purple Swamphen

What do you make?

I think of myself as a knitter ahead of all my other crafts, but don't get time to knit for the shop. For the Swampy I do sewing and screen printing (aside from website building, accounting, social media... heheheh).

What inspires you to create?

If we're talking about specific pieces my inspiration could come from anywhere. It's pretty random. But my inspiration to *create* probably comes from my inability to sit still, and my belief that making things is part of being human.

Are there any directions you'd like to go in creatively?

Oh, where do I stop? I'm constantly pulled in a thousand directions, which makes it hard to focus. At the moment I'd like to explore lino & screen printing further, combining the two perhaps.  I love the process of lino cutting but not so much the lino printing, so transferring linocuts to screenprints seems a natural way of bringing those ideas out. I'd also like to use my stash of wallaby leather, and fabric, and yarn, and...

cape barren goose linocut work in progress

Does living on Flinders impact positively / negatively on your creative process?

Tough one. It's definitely hard to be spontaneous here: if I need printing ink or linen thread I can't just nip down the shop and buy some. That's probably why I have the equivalent of two rooms full of craft supplies (whoops). But the light, the scenery, and the support of the community all far outweigh any negatives. I don't think I'd be running a shop, or carving lino, or playing music if I lived anywhere else. I might be much better at trapeze, though ;)

What's your response to someone who says "I'm not artistic at all" ?

Pffft. Everyone has something creative that they can do, and are probably pretty decent at. It might be gardening, or cooking, or sewing, or whatever. But all of those things require creative decisions.

The only difference between me and someone who says they can't knit is the fifteen years I've spent teaching myself how to do it. Sometimes it's easy to forget that everyone was a beginner once. But if you're keen you'll find the thing that floats your boat, and you'll be inspired to practise and learn more. One day you'll discover that you're actually bloody good at it, simply by looking at how far you've come.

cape barren goose screenprints

Well that got wordier than I expected!  It's pretty rare for me to share so much about myself publicly, so thanks for reading :)  I'll post more tales of our artists over the coming months.  In the meantime, follow the Swampy on instagram or sign up for (very) occasional email updates!  Cheers, Mel xx


  • Thanks Jane & Michelle for your lovely comments :)
    Jane, I’m loving following your insta; brings back lots of memories of my childhood. I can smell the sheep and dirt in your yards! You live a lot more remotely than I ever have though. I hope you get to return to our windswept island one day.
    Michelle, I think we were all too busy having a good time in our 20s to think about how we all came to the same place! And then, of course, we all scattered to the winds and continued our adventures. Maybe we need a reunion for 13CSSB!

    The Purple Swamphen

  • All these things I didn’t know about you! Your childhood sounds very adventurous indeed and it doesn’t surprise me at all that you’ve continued to grow and explore. Me too I reckon, a lot of what you wrote rang very familiar. Especially what you said about settling down and learning new skills instead of looking over the next horizon. That’s very true for many mums/parents! I have heaps of things I love to do but focus is a major problem for me too. As is lack of discipline, time management, distractions, general laziness… it’s a miracle I get anything done! But as you say, where there’s a will there’s a way. You are my new spirit animal; the ‘sticky gecko’ ?


  • Hello Mel. This is just a lovely story. We visited your part of the world in April and loved everything about it, including your shop. I still have a little bowl that I purchased (in your shop) on my kitchen table filled with FI sea treasure…as I desperately try to hold onto those holiday vibes! When is comes to creativity I am a gardener, blogger, bread baker and photographer living on an isolated sheep station. Station life is not unlike island life, there are no craft shops nearby or any shops for that matter. I think this makes me more resourceful and perhaps even more creative. I look forward to more blogs from you and Instagram, of course. Best wishes to you. Jane

    Jane @ Shady Baker

Leave a Comment