Thursday, January 30, 2014

The possibility of real reconciliation

 I struggle sometimes about how to make this work and not be righteous, even towards myself. How to examine what my family must have participated in, in the past, and not feel full of guilt. I somehow think that shame is appropriate but guilt seems to be just self righteous and a useless emotion. But maybe I have it the wrong way around. My friend Mick Gardner's comment to the last post was really interesting. I love the idea of being Scottish, Irish, Welsh, on Wurrundjeri. Meaning I am from those ancestries but born and grew up on Wurrundjerri country. Maybe I can shorten it to Gaelic on Wurrundjerri. I think we are all yearning to resolve this and belong somewhere. My project is perhaps only a selfish desire to find belonging and not about justice at all. I hope not. But then what would justice be? The outcome I would hope for would be that ALL Australians would acknowledge and respect Indigenous people in Australia and see them as holding a primary place in the identity of the Nation. We would all know the history of the places where we live and there would be appropriate monuments to respectfully account for all those who have died in the struggle. Places where ALL Australians would gather on Australia day and mourn and heal the past. Aboriginal and T I Australians would be properly compensated with freehold land for every family and free high quality education and health care for their life including mental health support. There would be the kind of support given as there would be if white Australians were subjected to a terrible trauma where many people died and others were tortured for generations. It's not that hard to work out what is needed. Then I can see the possibility of a culture where we can bring together the best of western civilisation such as the cleverness of science and technology, and the depth of wisdom, sensitivity and creativity of Indigenous cultures. We would be a Nation to behold, representing a possibility for the world.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Australia Day 1988

I saw Robbie Thorpe on an add for an ABC program '88' showing on Thursday night, saying Australia day 1988 was his proudest moment as an Aboriginal person (hope I quoted you right Robbie). It was a different emotion for me. Also one of the highlights of my life. It is hard to describe what I felt. I remember being at La Peruse where everybody gathered as they came in from all over the country. The largest group of Blackfellas any of us had ever seen in one place. Although Aboriginal people had huge gatherings pre-colonisation not until the urgent need to come together to protest, had they come from every corner of the continent. The parallel would be a moment in history when people from all over Europe  came to one place united with one message. Hard to image that ever happening.
There were days of discussion and consultation about how the protest would go on the 26th. Aboriginal leaders from across the country all spoke about their concerns. The big concern was wether to take the children on the march as they fully expected to encounter resistance from whitefellas, even full on violence directed at them for protesting on the day that white people celebrated. I knew of people coming from Melbourne to protest with them however I couldn't make myself heard as it wasn't my platform and Les and other family just thought I was naive. The decision was made to hold two marches. One early in the morning without the children that would go to Lady McQuarie's chair near where the royal yacht was tethered and one later that would go to Hyde Park. Les and I spent the night before driving around Sydney looking for Circus Oz as we knew they had a human cannon and Les was intent on being shot out of the human cannon at the royal yaght. We never managed to locate them much to my relief. (before mobiles and GPS) Weary but excited anyway, we took our huge banner on the early morning march which was halted on several occasions by police who repeatedly held a line by linking arms across the roads we were walking down. We would sit in the road until they unlinked their arms and we were able to file through their barrier single file. This was interesting with the banner which was about 20ft long. Sandra Onus and I had finished painting it at La Peruse the day before and it was shiny and beautiful with the image of Bunjil in the centre of the yellow sun. We eventually came to a spot near the royal yacht and spread out. There were Aussie people there to watch the tall ships and most moved aside but some were angry and rude. Les nearly made it out to the yacht in a canoe but was turned back by the water police.
The second march was more sedate but very moving. We left from Redfern, led by the men from up north who were all painted up and playing the dige. It wound through the streets of Sydney like a long slow snake, full of colour and chanting. There were banners of all kinds. One huge banner that floated with the help of balloons. Our stretched across the whole street. When we came to the tunnel under the railway line the sound of the didgeridoo's echoed back along the march as a kind of vibration of the spirit of the demonstration which was somber, intentional but peaceful. When I came out the other side of the tunnel I was met with the most surprising sight. The march had moved through a park to the right and it was filled with non-Aboriginal people of all persuasion with banners and crudely written signs of support. Everyone around me was shocked and as the march moved through these people Aboriginal people around me were open mouthed in surprise. I was joyous and felt vindicated in my naivety. The march became bigger and we ended at Hyde Park with speeches that were about what I saw as the possibility of real reconciliation. That vision was real but sadly has yet to be fulfilled 25 years later.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Why I feel unAustralian

I am looking in the mirror instead of looking out. What I see is blurred and hidden by obstacles from the past. I am not proud of being Australian. In 1979 I traveled overseas for the first time and met my cousin who lived in Sth Africa. She said that she always took her luggage labels off when she traveled because she hated being known as Sth African. (prior to 1994) Later when I was standing in a line somewhere in Europe a person asked me if I was from Sth Africa. I said righteously 'no I'm from Australia' to which he replied 'same thing'.
In that moment I began to discover that I had no reason to be proud of my country

Foreground - detail - engraving on mirror

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

The Northcote Koorie Mural

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time. T. S. Eliot

This seems a perfect quote for the beginning of this blog. I know I have already started it but the first few posts have been an exploration to locate exactly what I wanted to blog about.
In the middle of the night I woke with a clear idea of the focus of the blog. Sorry to those readers who have been muddling along with me so far. 

I have been circling around the work I am doing in the studio at the moment for probably thirty years. It all began with the Koorie Mural and it seems to have come back to where I started somehow but, as T.S. Elliot said, I know the place for the first time.

I want to share the journey on this blog, partly for myself to map out how the work I am doing developed, and partly to share with others the lessons I have learned along the way.

I am not a writer and probably won't write the novel which this story could be, because the truth of it mostly seems stranger than fiction. So for the people who follow this blog I will endeavour to unfold the circle into a pathway. 

                                                                The Koorie Mural in its original location - 1984
Koorie Mural from the balcony of Les and Bears flat - 1984

Friday, January 17, 2014

In the studio

Too hot to work this week. My studio is on the second floor of River Studios with the best view over the working docklands. I pay for this view in hot weather when my studio becomes unworkable due to sun on the windows. I'm back however and struggling to get my head around what has to be done for an exhibition I have coming up in April. It will be the first showing of any of the work from KELOID.
Myself and Nelia Justo will be showing our work in an exhibition for the 40th anniversary of the Footscray Community Arts Centre.
This is very slow beading work. A folding rocking chair which apparently used to be used in military campaigns for 'important' people to sit on at the end of a long ride (massacre)!

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

Understanding Shame

Shame seems to be a taboo subject. Nobody wants to feel it and definitely not admit to it. Shame is like a shadow cast across a landscape that dulls the colour. Humans will do a lot to avoid embarrassment, a low level experience of shame. It is deeply uncomfortable and I think it has a huge impact on our lives, our understanding of ourselves and our culture.
* see Brene Brown for a great video on this 

I have been circling this project for most of my adult life. It was not hard to see the connection between Aboriginal dispossession and my own self sufficiency from the first time I woke up to the truth about Australian History in the early 1980’s. I just didn’t look too hard because it was almost immediately obvious that I would have to deal with some difficult emotions so instead I became a self righteous advocate for other peoples rights. Pointing the finger at the ‘great uneducated’ mass of white Australians and distinguishing myself as someone who ‘understood’ and sympathised. The Northcote Koorie mural was devised from this position.

Not that I regret doing it and am even a little bit proud of the fact that it became so important to people but now is the time to look hard at the context that it arose in and share honestly my journey from that point to now.

KELOID is a project that represents some kind of closing of a circle of learning that began
30 years ago with the Koorie Mural. This of course doesn't mean that the circle is complete. It is now just a drop in a huge pond of knowledge that I am now exploring which includes understanding 'whiteness'. I have a sense that the pond is just a drop in an ocean!

1988 at La Peruse - Sandra Onus and me painting banner before Australia Day Protest

Saturday, January 4, 2014


My friend Annie gave me this mirror. It was her mothers'. A generous gift but she thought her mother would approve of my project. Intervening in the aesthetic of Victorian era objects with imagery that considers what lay beneath that 'civilised' beauty.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

At the beginning

I haven't been to see the new digitally constructed banner of the Northcote Koorie Mural yet. It went up while I was away and I was sent text images of it in Sth Africa which was suitably far enough away for me. It was a difficult time doing the work to recreate it. I felt as though I was literally remapping old brain patterns as I drew in Illustrator the old lines that we all drew 30 year ago before such a thing as a personal computer existed. Many wonderful but sad memories emerged out of the mass of my life's experience. Going back to rework something I did 30 years ago was difficult enough. Nobody wants to look that hard at their old work and I had been defined by that mural from day one. I was never interested in murals and in fact even though I did three large ones in a row I don't really like them. They dominate the landscape in the way that advertising billboards do. The original motivation to do the first two murals was always political. Two issues were important to me in my early 20's and they have remained so - Australia's unresolved past and the blatant theft of the country from its original inhabitants and the rights and freedom of half of the population, women. Thirty years on some things have changed but lots hasn't. I was told that not long before the original Koorie mural was dismantled it was graffitied with the words ABO. This is why I am embarking on a personal search for my families history. I believe that underlying the brash sporting identity of Australian culture is a deep and hidden shame. Stage one of the KELOID project explores that shame.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

In the studio


La Rose (a visitation)

How many greats was that?
I'm sure it was more.
Couldn't be great great
must be more like great great great
Steel fence
old peppercorns
bluestone restored.
presence of the past.
Flashing by my eyes
in transparent overlays
on an urban landscape.
His name was Coiler - changed from Colyear.
A name I'd never heard of but appearing on lists from his time.
He bought the house from Farquar, called prominent surgeon. He bought it from Pascoe Fawkner. Pascoevale. Fawkner. Place names I had never considered as anything but names on a map. In no way connected to my family. 
Who IS my family. I think only in the present. Often find myself saying, I only have Mum. Coming from a small family.
My family stretches back to days i'd rather not know about.
Days of theft and death and cruelty I cant imagine.
Days when people were shot like rabbits. Blackberrying was the name I heard. My family was there. Alive. IN the vicinity. Part of the colony. Did they raise a gun?