The generous spirit of the women in her life are a constant source of inspiration for Footscray artist Paola Balla, she tells Benjamin Millar.


What is your connection with Footscray?


I was born in Footscray at the Western General in 1974, on Kulin Country, and lived between my parents, my Aboriginal mother, Margy, in Echuca, and my Italian father here in Footscray.


What do you love most about the area?


The Maribyrnong; all the different language groups and cultures; how it’s down to earth. I love Footscray and will defend it against classism and snobbery. I love the Western Bulldogs, working, doing my PhD at Vic Uni.


Is there anything you would change?


I would slow down development to ensure affordable social housing for low income and homeless people, and create more arts support from Maribyrnong council. Have inclusive public art and spaces that are culturally safe for marginalised Peoples, respectful of trauma and displacement, and engaging for children and young people.


Do you have a favourite local place?


Walking along the Maribyrnong River, Barkly Street and the mall, shopping at Footscray Market, Kmart and Savers. Going to FCAC with our mob, and being with our arts community to see art, make art or talk about it!


How did you become involved in making art?


Art making was a way of life in my mother’s family, either story telling, writing or painting. I’m always hoping to communicate personal, cultural and historical truths. For 22 years I’ve been making my own work, curating others, teaching, lecturing and writing. For the last seven years I’ve been working in First Peoples Art & Culture at FCAC and recently co-curated Sovereignty at ACCA.


Who has been your biggest inspiration?


My biggest inspiration in life has been women – either my mother, grandmothers, great grandmother or great great grandmother Papa Mariah Day. Aboriginal women have to endure so much and they give so much. As artists, Vicki Couzens and Maree Clarke.


How did you become involved in Women of the World Melbourne?


I was invited to give a keynote address and facilitate a panel called Radical Self Care. I’m excited to be with amazing Aboriginal women speakers, artists and activists and Women of Colour both local and international.


What might surprise people about you?


My dad is Charlie, of Charlies Pizza, an Italian pizza restaurant dad opened in 1974 and one of Footscray’s original restaurants. It’s where I learnt to waitress, make coffee and pizza and, in the ‘80s, play unlimited Pac Man.


Paola Balla is one of 10 local women featured in the Her Place Women’s Museum: Women in the West Exhibition (VU at MetroWest until March 31). She will be a keynote speaker at the Women of the World festival at FCAC (March 23-25). Details: