2019 Sydney Design Awards

spaces, objects, visual, graphic, digital & experience design, design champion, best studio & best start-up, plus over 40 specialist categories

accelerate transformation, celebrate courage, growing demand for design

Emily Kame Kngwarreye for the Balarinji-Qantas 787-9 art aircraft [DRAFT]





Project Overview

25 years ago Balarinji pitched an idea to Qantas to create a work of flying art to celebrate the power of Aboriginal design for Australia’s global identity. The campaign concept became a reality with five art aircraft created between 1994-2018 in deep collaboration with the Aboriginal arts community. In 2018 Balarinji created the collection’s jewel in the crown, a magnificent conceptualisation of Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s painting 'Yam Dreaming' and it now adorns a Qantas 787-9 Dreamliner.

Qantas is one of Australia’s most iconic brands. Balarinji ensured not only that the design followed Qantas’ brand and identity unambiguously, but that it represented with integrity, a beautifully resolved design interpreting the work of one of Australia’s most important artists. It had to appeal to the Australian market, and be a symbol of who Australia is as a nation. The design’s accessibility, and positive intuitive appeal for professional and public audiences, in Australia and globally, was clear from the number of client executives, onlookers, passengers and crew sharing their feedback, images and videos of their experience with the Emily Dreamliner.

The finished design received an emotional welcome as she flew over the Central Australian desert to touch down at dawn in Alice Springs. The power of the design stirred tears of joy and spontaneous songs in language from Emily’s family and community who sang the aircraft onto the tarmac. This emotional moment has often been shared by the Qantas CEO and his executive since.

Project Commissioner


Project Creator



Balarinji Studio

Project Brief

Qantas tasked Balarinji with creating the fuselage design for one of its long haul flagship fleet of 787-9 Dreamliners. The brief was to create a design that was deeply authentic to its Indigenous roots as well as brand-consistent with the airline’s commitment to aviation’s newest technologies. The Balarinji-designed Qantas Dreamliner would be used as part of a very significant branding exercise for Qantas’ inaugural Perth to London direct flight. It needed to be iconic, recognisable and authentically capture Qantas’ commitment to reconciliation and the promotion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, art and economic development. The design, scale and colour needed to be compatible with Qantas branding and safety requirements, and replicable in the Boeing paintshop under time and knowhow mandatories.

Project Innovation/Need

Emily is one of Australia's most significant contemporary Artists, with a recent painting having sold for $2.1 million. When Balarinji first took the Flying Art series idea to Qantas, Aboriginal art was scarcely used in any corporate setting, let alone on a 700 square metre canvas that would fly above millions of people each day. Balarinji is the first design agency to work in this way.

The design used materials and processes in a new way to achieve the original artwork’s transitional background through a hand spray paint application of quick drying aviation expandable medium. Balarinji’s bespoke Emily Dreamliner is a world first.

Design Challenge

Balarinji worked with the art of the late, internationally renowned artist Emily Kame Kngwarreye’s 1991 painting ‘Yam Dreaming’ to create a fuselage design that responds to the viewer from all angles – from the ground, from an air bridge, in the sky.

Balarinji worked with Qantas Engineering and Boeing to prepare 2D and 3D renders for a fully resolved execution, detailing 5000 individual dots, and every unique line and motif of the original Yam Dreaming painting. While keeping the authenticity of the original artwork, Balarinji developed a complementary colour palette for the fuselage to reflect the Qantas brand, and comply with air safety standards and regulations. A team of more than 60 graphic designers, engineers and painters at Boeing’s Seattle facility worked with Balarinji to stencil the design onto the aircraft to provide the best possible market experience. Best practice Intellectual Property management ensured the Aboriginal artist, family and community were central in project development, and the integrity of the art was preserved.


The Emily Kame Kngwarreye Dreamliner celebrated Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander art and culture on a global stage in a very public way. It brought the design world’s attention to one of Australia’s most important late 20th Century artists, late senior Anmatyerre woman, Emily Kame Kngwarreye. It gave Emily’s family and community recognition and the opportunity to share her work with the world.

The project saw Qantas CEO Alan Joyce welcome this special aircraft home in Alice Springs with Emily’s family and community in March 2018. It was an emotional and historically significant moment for reconciliation and Australian inclusivity.

The project’s return on design investment was exponential. Within less than two months Qantas achieved a total reach of over 1 million views for social content shared on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and YouTube. Qantas subsequently selected the aircraft to make the first commercial non-stop flight Perth-London, generating national and international media coverage. The project was an iconic branding exercise for Qantas that continues to contribute instrumentally to the company’s ‘Spirit of Australia’ brand and identity story.

This award celebrates creative and innovative design in the traditional or digital visual representation of ideas and messages. Consideration given to clarity of communication and the matching information style to audience.
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