Milliner Waltraud Reiner engages rural communities in the art of hat-making, using creativity to improve mental-health outcomes.

Story by Eliza Waters  Photos by Eliza Walters and Waltraud Reiner

As world-renowned milliner Waltraud Reiner ambled around the far west region of New South Wales last June, so too did purple clouds and the promise of rain. With both, came relief. 

Waltraud and her ‘Hatmobile’ called Audrey hit the road each year to deliver millinery workshops in drought-affected remote communities. This Hats Off To Outback Women tour employs a philosophy of positive mental health through creativity and engages rural women in the skills of hat-making. 

“Country people in Australia are often socially isolated, and lack opportunities to find time just to be with themselves in making beautiful things,” Waltraud says. “When we create, we give ourselves a chance to connect to something that often bypasses words and lets us see through colour and shapes.”

In conjunction with Outback Arts, which has an office in Coonamble but covers the Far West, Waltraud provides inclusive artistic experiences to communities each year, while raising awareness and support for mental health. She believes that hats are more than just functional – they are a powerful means of self-expression. She has the ability to inspire those she works with, encouraging others to look after their mental health and embrace a positive lifestyle. 

“Hats for me have many metaphors and I can relate all of it to life situations and daily happenings,” Waltraud says. “We all wear many invisible hats and we change them all the time.”

This story excerpt is from Issue #110

Outback Magazine: Dec/Jan 2017