About Zela


 I feel really lucky. It’s like I’ve had a blessed life. I was awarded Scholarships to help me get an education and break out of the cycle of poverty. I experienced the heady camaraderie of political activism in Queensland as a student. I sold my hand-thrown and painted pottery when appreciation for handcrafts was at its peak. I found loving people to teach me Indigenous culture and values. I lived through the counter-culture era of alternative lifestyles and high environmental ideals.

While my children were young we lived out those ideals in an incredibly lush, beautiful region with horses to ride, organic vegetables and fruit on the trees. The Mary River Valley with its subtropical rainforest, creeks and waterfalls inspired my visual art. All these experiences have given me unique philosophy and values that I bring to bear in my workshops, events and artworks.



Zela often describes the timing of her life as “charmed”.

Born in Maryborough, Queensland in 1954, Zela was the eldest of three daughters. Throughout their childhood, Zela and her sisters spent hours at their grandparents home “dressing up” in a sumptuous collection of old silks and satins and inventing “alter-egos” as part of elaborate pretending games that went on from week to week. Zela loved to draw and especially to undertake pencil portraits of friends and family, producing remarkable likenesses from an early age.

Zela went on to prove a gifted student in all subject areas. After bringing in the sought-after “8A’s” for Junior (Year 10) at 15, one of a handful of students from Maryborough Girls State High to win a Commonwealth Scholarship to go to Year 12 in an era when many girls did not.

The next year she was accepted into Brisbane College of Art, where she completed a Diploma in Fine Art in 1977. During these years she was introduced to clay and the mysteries of kiln firing by master potters Carl McConnell and Bob Forster. During those exciting years she embraced radical politics, joining other young idealists in the anarcho-syndicalist Self Management Group. Zela worked at Women’s House, the first women’s Health Centre and refuge in Brisbane

Zela left Brisbane in 1980 to work as a potter on the fledgling Junction Co-op, a group of feminist women who wanted to create an alternative lifestyle on the land. Here she worked not just making pots, but gardening, building sheds, digging and processing clay from the land and building a kiln. Junction Cooperative was an experiment that ended soon after, but Zela, now firmly inspired to garden and eat organic foods, joined another alternative lifestyle cooperative at Wolvi, Coondoo Farm Cooperative, which was to be her home for 17 years.

Here, Zela set out to find out more about the culture of the Australia’s original inhabitants, the Aboriginal people. She made contact with Guboo Ted Thomas’s Renewing the Dreaming movement, and attended camps at the Bunya Mountains and Crystal Waters on the Mary River.

Zela also worked with a passion to complete her pottery studio under the house. Along with her partner, she built a new wood-burning kiln, making and decorating glazed ware to sell at markets and teaching students the art of pottery while he established extensive gardens and orchards. Their home became a Mecca for young people from all over the world through the WWOOF (Willing Workers on Organic Farms) scheme.

Zela’s works so far have included study units for primary and secondary schools aligned to the Australian curriculum in science and sustainability, short courses for teachers and natural resource management professionals.

Zela returned to painting in acrylics, winning the Mary Valley Landscape Prize in 1990 and 1992, and other awards for drawing and watercolours at the annual Gympie Gold Rush Festival. Her 1993 pottery exhibition at The Potter’s Gallery was favourably reviewed by Courier mail critic, Sue Smith.

Zela at Mr Coot-tha Botancial Gardens

“I see my first teaching position as my apprenticeship”


In 1994 Zela enrolled at QUT in 1994 upgrading her Fine Arts Diploma to a Bachelor of Visual Arts during a wonderful year encountering post-modernism for the first time. The next year, with excellent results behind her, Zela was accepted into the one year Graduate Diploma in Education, choosing to specialise in Early Childhood.

After graduating as a teacher at the end of the year, Zela was immediately offered a teaching position in a small Gympie school, where she remained for seven years.


  • Master of Environmental Education (Hons), Griffith University, 2010
  • Graduate Diploma of Education, QUT, 1995
  • Bachelor of Visual Arts Kelvin Grove, QUT, 1994
  • Diploma Fine Arts, Seven Hills College of Art, Brisbane, 1977


Selected shows & awards

2015 The Coccolith Connection, Six Degrees of Separation, climate change artists group show, Gympie Regional Gallery June – August
2014-15 Into Paper Papermakers of Queensland group exhibition, 3 venues: Redcliffe, Gympie and Brisbane, Memories of the Burning Bush, hand-made paper, eco-dyeing and collage
2013 Through Emerald Eyes Solo Show August Gympie Regional Gallery
Through Emerald Eyes Group Show with Papermakers of Queensland members Gatakers Gallery Maryborough January 2013
2012 Brenda Mae Gallery Zines How Do I Know I’m a Bunya Nut?
SWAM exhibition Harbourside Gallery Noosa Marina (local Archibald entrants)
Short-listed, Andrew Fisher Portrait Prize Portrait of Rae Norris
2011 Postcards Obsession Papermakers of Qld
2010 Revealed, BCC Brisbane Square Library, Brisbane City, POQ group show of paper based works featuring handmade paper using plant and other fibres
2008 Size Matters (Papermakers of Queensland) Studio Red, Redcliffe
Spirit of Mary Cooloola Shire Gallery Mary River Triumvrate, Mary Valley interactive map
Podpiece, joint work with Joolie Gibbs, felt and poinciana pods, Gympie Regional Gallery
2007 Winner, Cooloola Heritage Award Battler Turtle Handmade paper on canvas
Books 07 Noosa Regional Gallery Harmony in the Global Village 7-panel cast paper sculpture
Coverings 152 Payne Road Gallery Brisbane 3 Mary River pieces: Hymnal for Mary, Coverlet for Mary cast leaves
2006 Next Art Gallery SCU NSW Book Arts Auntie’s Title Deed
Artetica International Book Arts Rome Natura
Kati Izinger Gallery Hungary Homage to Georgia #1
“red/read” Artisan Bookshop Homage to Georgia #2
Libris Book Arts Mackay Artspace
2005 Winner, Cooloola Heritage Award The Old Tractor
Winner, Cooloola Wearable Art Awards Bloomin’ Oz with felt and cotton
Winner, Cooloola Library Children’s Picture Book Pandagoric and the Eagle
2004 Winner, Works On Paper Award Gold Rush Art Festival Born in the Sixties Digitally altered photos and hand-made paper