Cheeky Dog: Dion the artist

Cheeky Dog: Dion the artist
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are advised that the following program may contain images and/or audio of deceased persons
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Joie Boulter speaks about having Dion’s artwork applied to T-shirts as a way to raise funds. We see examples of Dion’s artwork now applied to T-shirts. All royalties raised from the merchandise are put into a trust fund for Dion. We hear from Dion’s family, grandfather John Beasley and Gloria Beasley, Dion’s aunty. Summary by Romaine Moreton.

Dion’s obsession with dogs becomes the artwork of T-shirts and other merchandise, and the label 'You Cheeky Dog’ is based on Dion’s work. It is interesting to see a young boy, with his simple outlook and his keen observations of canines, generate merchandise, the proceeds from which go into a fund to support him in the future. Effectively, Dion is an artist, and as his grandfather tells us, it is possible that drawing dogs will become his job.

Cheeky Dog synopsis

A documentary about a young Indigenous boy with muscular dystrophy and his fascination with dogs.

Cheeky Dog is part of the Nganampa Anwernekenhe series produced by Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA) Productions. Nganampa Anwernekenhe means 'ours’ in the Pitjanjatjara and Arrernte lanuages, and the series aims to contribute to the preservation of Indigenous languages and cultures.

Cheeky Dog curator's notes

Stylistically, this documentary titled Cheeky Dog introduces the audience slowly to the personal world of Dion Beasley, a young Aboriginal boy who is profoundly deaf and has muscular dystrophy. The narrative unfolds gradually as we get to know Dion’s playful fascination, verging on obsession, with dogs. This enthralment with dogs is important in Dion’s life, inspiring him to draw his four legged friends constantly. It is this drawing of dogs that leads to Dion’s work being applied to T-shirts and made available for sale. Dogs seem to have a peaceful, calming affect on Dion, and the animated segments in the film, inspired by Dion’s artwork, add to the simplistic charm of this story.

Notes by Romaine Moreton

Education notes

This clip shows an interview with Joie Boulter, the carer for Dion Beasley, a young Tennant Creek artist, talking about his art and the creation of the Cheeky Dog label to market his work. Her narration is illustrated with rapidly changing images of T-shirts decorated with Dion’s art, accompanied by techno music. Short interviews with Dion Beasley’s grandfather and aunt and a short scene of Dion with Joie and his sign language interpreter looking at a folio of his work intercut the main interview. The clip ends with a shot of the Cheeky Dog label. It includes subtitles.

Educational value points

  • The clip provides an example of a relationship that has transformed the life of a severely disabled boy. Joie Boulter first encountered Dion Beasley when she was his teacher at Tennant Creek Primary School. She describes him as being a ‘very lonely little boy’, with no interaction with the outside world. While working with him she saw his talent as an artist. It is through her efforts that Dion’s work is now being marketed as Cheeky Dog Designs, providing money for his future.
  • The clip reveals how Dion, who did not talk and used only a very basic sign language even with his family because of his profound deafness, has found a means of communicating with the wider world through his original and close observations of dogs, translated into drawings.
  • The humour, variety and originality of Dion’s dog characters are evident in those that are featured in the clip. Darwin-based designer Stan Whiting, who was responsible for the creation of the Cheeky Dog label, saw their potential immediately. ‘He’s got a dog for every occasion and every product’, he said ( Whiting does not change the designs at all, merely cleaning up the lines so they are clear for screen printing.
  • The pride in and support for Dion’s achievement from members of his family are revealed in the clip in the interviews to camera with Dion’s grandfather John Beasley and his aunt Gloria Beasley. They express their support for his work, with his grandfather reporting that he likes the drawings of the dogs and seeing people wearing Dion’s T-shirts. He expresses the hope that Dion might be able to continue drawing dogs as a job when he grows up.
  • Although it is not evident in the clip, Dion has to deal with both profound deafness and muscular dystrophy. Muscular dystrophy is a neuromuscular disorder for which there is currently no cure. It causes progressive degeneration of the voluntary muscles, that is, the muscles that control the movements of the limbs, head, face, feet and hands. Dion is dealing with his deafness by learning Auslan, Australian sign language, with the assistance of a sign language interpreter.
  • Dion Beasley’s designs have gained recognition and awards. In 2005 he received the Best Indigenous Memento Award. These awards showcase fresh, contemporary and commercially viable craft, art and design. He was also a finalist in the 2006 Northern Territory Young Achiever Awards. The Alice Springs Chamber of Commerce and Austrade have offered to help market Cheeky Dog Designs overseas and set up a website for Internet sales.
  • An interesting example of narrative technique is provided by the clip. Dion’s story is told largely through his carer, Joie Boulter. The clip both begins and ends with Joie telling Dion’s story. Her narrative is intercut with interviews with his grandfather and aunt and shots using camera movement and techno music to convey the liveliness and originality of Dion’s T-shirt designs. The viewer never sees the interviewer or hears the questions asked.
  • The clip is from the documentary Cheeky Dog (2006), one of more than 100 documentaries in the Nganampa Anwernekenhe series of television films whose guiding principle was to give voice to Indigenous peoples. Produced by the Central Australian Aboriginal Media Association (CAAMA), the series’ aim was to preserve and promote Indigenous languages and cultures. Subjects ranged widely and included traditional law and culture as well as social issues and Aboriginal identity.

Education notes provided by The Learning Federation and Education Services Australia

Production company:
CAAMA Productions
Executive Producer:
Rachel Clements
Series producer:
Barbara Clifford
Dena Curtis
Dion Beasely, Gloria Beasley, John Beasley, Joie Boulter, Anna Vost, Taryn Walker

This clip starts approximately 6 minutes into the documentary.

Joie Boulter, Dion’s carer, sits in a bush setting being interviewed. We see images of different t-shirts.

Joie Boulter, Dion’s carer I thought at the time that they would transfer very well onto t-shirts and we’re sort of always looking to the future and what we’re going to do, and how we’re going to make money and that sort of thing. So we started with, I don’t know, 20 I suppose, got some t-shirts in, got them printed, sold them, did a few more and we’d sold several hundred of those. And then I was printing, using his dogs and making lino prints and printing bags and cards and then at the beginning of this year we were talking to a graphic artist from Darwin who looked at the designs, thought that they were very wonderful and was very excited about it and offered to design a t-shirt with Dion’s dogs but flash them up a bit, put a bit of colour, re-arrange them differently and actually design the t-shirt.

We see some of Dion’s designs on t-shirts accompanied by music.

So we launched the Cheeky Dog label in Darwin in June and we had a thousand printed, so we’ve sold a good amount of those now. So we’re just hoping that it develops into quite a decent business and royalties which we’re paying per t-shirt and per item of other selling merchandise, we’re putting into a trust fund for Dion so that’s where it’s heading.

A woman models some of Dion’s t-shirts accompanied by music.

Dion’s grandfather is interviewed in front of a building in the desert. Dion shows some of his designs on paper and the photographs they’re inspired by.

John Beasley, Dion’s grandfather Sometimes I see people wearing his t-shirts and I like it. I like the way the drawings of the dogs are on the t-shirts, it’s very good. When he grows up he might still draw pictures of dogs. That might be his job drawing those pictures of dogs.

Dion’s aunty is interviewed. We see another one of Dion’s t-shirts.

Gloria Beasley, Dion’s aunty I reckon it’s really good that Dion’s art, his name is on a shirt. Sometimes I buy them on off Joie and give them to the family.

Joie Boulter is interviewed.

Joie Boulter He’s not fussed with all the formalities and doesn’t understand all the selling of the t-shirts and all that sort of stuff. But he knows that the shirts are his and he enjoys drawing and as long as you know sort of we look after him properly and you know hopefully it’ll help him in the future.

We see the label of one of Dion’s Cheeky Dog t-shirts.