23 August 2013
I am driving to Winton today; the long road, taught as stretched elastic ready to fire backwards in my face. I follow the high oblong box of a road train shimmering on the horizon ahead; in my side vision, the dull blue-grey of the grasslands sweeping outwards.
Winton is the first town I arrive at, two hours down the road, and I check into my hotel, climbing the stairs to a narrow corridor with closed doors disappearing to the distance down either side, and my room number stuck to the front of one. Each room has doors leading onto a communal concrete verandah which overlooks the car park, the sounds of the TV and the bar drifting up from below. The room has that same pink smell of all these country motels; mixed with the cigarette ash of the ashtrays outside.
I am here to run some photography workshops but have also been put in touch with Pearl, by my friends in Barcaldine.
When I arrive at Pearl’s home, her paintings are turned to the wall. Aboriginal paintings are based on stories and images centered on the Dreaming and as such are deeply significant and spiritual. I respect that she has let me into her home despite obviously being unsure of who I am and what I am about. We talk for a short while before she turns the paintings around to show me, and I am grateful for this action.
Pearl prefers that I do not record our conversation. I listen instead to her stories, and hear once more the tales of injustice, the hurt and the damage that have been done. After a couple of hours she says, “I wish you had recorded. It is the first time I have had the opportunity to tell a white person”.
Pearl then decides to invite Jocelyn, her mother, down to talk to me. Jocelyn’s mother and father were married before they were even born. They were selected to be married, because their bloodline relates them to the Kings and Queens of their country. Jocelyn’s mother, Alice Wilson, was involved with the big Land Rights marches in the 1960’s, and she received the Order of Australia medal for her work on behalf of Aboriginal people.
Jocylen tells me her language groups are Murrawarri, Kurawarri and Pitapita. But Jocelyn was never allowed to speak her language nor ever taught it. To teach language and culture to children resulted in having them forcibly removed from the family and sent to live at a mission. “Growing up was tough”, she says, “because of the racism”. “We weren’t allowed to dance”. She was taught to survive ‘by being the white way’.
Jocelyn bought a taxi and became a taxi driver to support her children She also completed an Aboriginal cultural course in Geelong and spent much time researching the stories and ways of life that should have been passed onto her. Jocelyn and Pearl share aspects of these for the sound recordings I gather.
With the sinking of the sun, I finally head on my way. I am full of respect for the strength and courage of Pearl and Jocelyn, and so many others I have met like them on this journey; And with sadness for what they have endured.
I hope with each sharing of the sadness, the weight can somehow, in some small way, be reduced; the apparent cloak of invisibility surrounding this sadness when one lives a day-to-day life on the affluent east coat of Australia, removed; and respect for Australian Aboriginal people and their rich culture increased.
(A link to information about Aboriginal Art has been added to the Australia Digital Resources page of the blog)