T and I went to the art gallery after dropping J at school. We sat for an hour and listened to artist Dale Harding speak about his contribution to the installation at The Hub – Caboolture Regional Art Gallery. He spoke of the breast plate that he created and the story of his nanna that inspired it. The breast plate was made from lead, it is heavy, toxic to the nervous system and it’s cold. The other element to the piece was old fencing wire to represent his nanna’s living conditions as a young child.
They were in a concentration camp, they were enclosed within the perimeter of a wire fence, they lived in dormitories and their clothes were not suitable for the climate. Their language was taken away from them. If they spoke it they would be punished severely, their culture, traditions were prohibited from being practiced or spoken of, they were afforded no dignity. They were malnourished not only physically as the food was not sufficient to sustain them, but mentally and emotionally. They were forbidden to use their names and they were assigned an alpha numeric identity. Nanna was W38.
Sitting next to my child and five other women ranging in ages within the local art gallery, art work lining the walls, and dimmed lighting, it felt like a blessed experience. Listening to this world renowned artist speak, and hearing these atrocities of his family and country, I had tears tracking down my cheeks. I was ashamed and embarrassed that within the hour spent with this generous man who was so honest and open to complete strangers, I learnt more about Indigenous Australian stories and history than when I was at school or at any time since. I was uncomfortable as a white person in this setting that this man had to educate me (and maybe all of us – I don’t know what the other ladies know) of the dreadful history of the state that we live in. History that is so new. How did I not learn this at school. As Dale tutored us in history, he touched on the fact that while World War I and II were raging in Europe these things were happening in our own country, in our state of Queensland. He also told us that this history lesson skipped a generation in his family, that his mother never knew the extent of her mother’s and his nanna’s tragedy. It wasn’t until Dale started to enquire about the story of his nanna that it came to light. Dale himself was worried about asking appropriate questions to his nanna and he continually sought her permission to tell her story – she was open to it.
As T and I left the gallery after taking a few photos (I had permission from the art gallery curator) I was grateful that T had the opportunity to have that experience. To learn important history from such an authentic source and to view the Exhibition: My Country, I Still Call Australia Home: Contemporary Art from Black Queensland.
I born up the (Mossman) Gorge on the riverbank in a gunya and
police come along look for all the half-caste kids, but they hid me . . .
my mother, we had to hide. In them baskets . . . and they hide me
in that and give me (seed-pod rattles); lot, put in there, keep me
quiet . . . when them police come say ‘No one here. No more kids.
All gone . . . take ’em all away’. – Wilma Walker