Tag Archives: Stolen Generation

Q- Queenie McKenzie – Letters to Dead Artists, A-Z Challenge.

Welcome to the latest installment in my series of Letters to Dead Artists. Today, I’ll be writing to Australian Aboriginal artist, Queenie McKenzie (circa 1915-1998) from Warnum in the Kimberly region of Western Australia, where there is a thriving Aboriginal Arts Centre.

The music I’ve chosen to accompany Queenie McKenzie is Yothu Yindi’s – Timeless Land

 

Kimberley Map

Map of  Australia Showing the Kimberleys: By User:Brisbane, User:Martyman –

Queenie McKenzie was one of the most prominent painters of the Warmun (Turkey Creek) community, and was born at Texas Downs Station on the Ord River. The daughter of an Aboriginal woman and a gardiya (white-fella) father, in her youth McKenzie was at the centre of a series of tense encounters between her mother and local government authorities, who sought to take her from her family, in line with assimilation policies of the time. On each occasion, McKenzie’s mother strongly resisted, even rubbing charcoal on the young girl in an attempt to conceal her lighter skin. As a young woman, McKenzie worked as a goatherd and later as a cook in the cattle mustering camps of Texas Downs. In her later years she moved to Warmun, where she became one of the most senior figures in Gija women’s law and ceremony. After witnessing the success of the male Warmun artists, and with the encouragement of Rover Thomas, in 1987 McKenzie was the first woman to begin painting in her community.

In little more than a decade of active painting, Queenie McKenzie emerged as a prominent and compelling commentator on the Aboriginal experience. Participating in numerous solo and group exhibitions, she created works that range in scope from the creation of the world, through the violent encounters of the colonial era, to the present day. Many of McKenzie’s paintings are autobiographical: depicting episodes from her life with her own people and with gardiya, on the remote cattle stations of the East Kimberley. McKenzie created a remarkable visual history of a life spent in two worlds: the sacred landscape of the Ngarrangkarni, and her working life on Texas Downs Station 1.

“Every rock, every hill, every water, I know that place backwards and forwards, up and down, inside out. It’s my country and I got names for every place.”

-Queenie McKenzie

Her painting followed Rover Thomas’ style, mapping country in natural ochers, blending landscape with witnessed or remembered events, family anecdotes and mythological information. Her landscapes are very distinctive, particularly her rendition of the Kimberleys. She used dots to delineate her simple forms, not as a form of intuitive primitivism, but as a link to the traditional work of the Turkey Creek movement. She became an active printmaker after producing her first prints in 1995 in collaboration with printmaker, Theo Tremblay. Her work has been widely exhibited since 1991. It was included in the exhibitions ‘Power of the Land, Masterpieces of Aboriginal Art’ at the National Gallery of Victoria in 1992, and she also had a solo exhibition in Melbourne in 1997. 2.

 

I wanted to incorporate an Aboriginal artist in this series, because Australians owe such much to the rich, Aboriginal heritage we have inherited as the Australian nation. I’m not sure that “inherited” is quite the world. Indeed, I’m struggling to find the right words for any of this and feel quite intimated as a white woman discussing the works of an Aborigingal woman. I shouldn’t because I should just be able to discuss the works of any artist and how they have impacted on me without judgement. Sure, people might say I’ve omitted some of the facts, or got my facts wrong, but you can’t stop anyone from looking at a painting and having an emotional response.

However, when it came to approaching Queenie McKenzie’s work, I had two hands tied behind my back and couldn’t get close enough to form my own assessment. I was shut out.

Jesus-Over-Texas1

Queenie McKenzie: Jesus Over Texas, (Western Australia).

When I was able to find some of her works online, I couldn’t understand what I saw. You see, despite being a middle-aged Australian, I virtually have no understanding of Aboriginal art. This is hardly surprising because we didn’t learn anything about Aboriginal culture at school, although Aboriginal dancers did come to our school when I was about seven years old. That was it. By the time I was at university, Aboriginal History was an option, although I pursued Australian Women’s History instead. My uncle is an Aboriginal man and my aunt has written the national history of the stolen generation so I’ve had more exposure to Aboriginal culture than most Australians of my generation. Fortunately, my kids have been more fortunate and Aboriginal culture and history is much more part of the curriculum now, than it used to be.

God sending the Holy Spirit Queenie McKenzie

Queenie McKenzie: God Sending the Holy Spirit

So, I pretty much have to approach Aboriginal Art the same way I would a very abstract piece with no overt meaning. That’s a real headache for me. I feel I should be seeing something that I can see, and it’s very intimidating, even humiliating. It doesn’t encourage me to spend more time there, get to know it better, unless there are more obvious features like the use of animal totems like the kangaroo, dolphin etc. This is possibly because I have a real respect for this culture, as I do for every culture, and I don’t want to get it wrong. It’s a bit like not talking to a friend who is dying or has been diagnosed with cancer, because you don’t know what to say.

Of course, I could find out more about Aboriginal Art and by this I mean the real traditional Aboriginal art. Indeed, to this end, I actually tried to find Queenie McKenzie’s works at the Art Gallery of NSW yesterday. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any. I had intended to spent the afternoon there. However, I ended up having lunch with my mother and daughter at Barangaroo on Sydney Harbour, which only left me a few hours. Once I arrived at the gallery, I must admit I became rather distracted by both old friends and new. I also did a fleeting run through The Lady & the Unicorn Exhibition.

However, I did come across works by Munggurrawuy Yunapingu (1907-79).

DSC_9555

Munggurrawuy Yunapingu (1907-79): Lany’tjung-Barama & Gulparemun (c1960) Art Gallery of NSW.

However, perseverance and persistence paid off and I managed to find this online:

Queen of the Desert - Australian War Memorial AWM2017_665_1--1-.JPG

The Horso Creek Massacre has been described as one of the most horrific and defining events in Aboriginal/White relations in the Kimberley region of Western Australia. The story of how a group of Gija people were shot and killed by white men for driving off bullocks has been passed down through the generations by word of mouth and Queenie learned of the story from her grandfather, Paddy Rattigan. Paddy’s father had killed a bullock and the white men were brutal in seeking their retribution. One old woman, not understanding what they were, is said to have given the men a bullet she found, which they then shot her with. The victims’ bodies were later burnt to hide the evidence. One boy managed to escape by hiding in the dead body of the animal and was later found by his mother. He was the sole survivor of the massacre 3.

When I was a kid, we learned nothing at all about such massacres. We were taught that Captain Cook “discovered” Australia in 1770. The trouble was that Australia was never lost, at least not to its own people and surrounding regions. It had its own people with their own history, culture and laws which was all written off when the country was described as “Terra nullus” and was in effect seen as a blank slate. A blank piece of white paper where the English could write their own story and do whatever they wanted…and they did. When the First Fleet arrived on January 26th, 1788 they began what is now considered an “invasion”. That is what’s now being taught in our schools. That is what my children are learning and I am also being educated along the way.

Anyway, unfortunately I don’t have the time at the moment to really do Queenie McKenzie or her people justice. So, now I’ll get moving a write my letter to Queenie McKenzie.

A Letter to Queen McKenzie

Dear Queenie

My name’s Rowena and I live way over the other side of Australia on the New South Central Coast, just North of Sydney. It’s such a long way from Warmun and your way of life…your art. I know the sea, and although I’ve been across the Nullarbor several times travelling between Sydney and Perth, I know nothing about the desert and its way. However, perhaps being aware of this ignorance and reaching out across the geographical and experiential gap, is the beginning of something new. We’ll have to wait and see.

I guess that’s what they call reconciliation, but it seems like such a big word for just getting on with the job. Why is acceptance and mutual respect such a big deal? Isn’t that just how you’re meant to treat people…the Golden Rule?

As a person living with a disability, I have seen that you can’t take these values for granted. That even when a parking spot is designated for disabled people, they’ll still think it’s their ordained right to park there. Or’ they expect people with disabilities to fly to gain access to a building, because they can’t make it up the stairs. We live in a world with warped values. What more can I say?

Anyway, I’m making a commitment to come back for a longer visit after this A-Z Challenge is over. I certainly couldn’t hope to get to know you in only one day.

Best wishes,

Rowena

A Letter From Queenie McKenzie

Dear Rowena,

Thank you very much for your letter and your efforts to try to understand my people, my country, our history and our art.

While much is said about getting to know someone by climbing into their skin or walking in their shoes, this is not so easy. You can not be me. I can not be you. I am a Gija woman.  I spent my entire life in the Kimberleys, a place you have never been, and I have never walked along your beach. Yet, for me, it all boils down to how you treat somebody. When you take the time to listen to someone’s stories and show respect for their ways, that is what matters.

Family is very important to me and love. When the Police were coming around and stealing our children, my mother painted me with charcoal so they wouldn’t take me away. Don’t ever take your family for granted and defend your people to the death, if that’s what it takes. Nothing is more important than your people.

Finally, what’s all this business of technology and screens. I knew my country like the back of my hands.

These children don’t even know their hands, let alone what’s going on around them. They need to wake up and get back down to earth. Feel the earth under foot at at the heart of their being for now they are floating like kites who have broken free from the earth and have no home. They have not only lost any sense of community. They have also lost themselves.

Best wishes,

Queenie.

References

1.Art Gallery of NSW- Queenie McKenzie

Map: Derivative of File:Northern Territory locator-MJC.png based on File:Kimberley_region_of_western_australia.JPG and File:Regions_of_western_australia_nine_plus_perth.png., CC BY 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=14102655

https://www.facebook.com/warmunartcentre/

2. https://www.portrait.gov.au/people/queenie-mckenzie-nakara-1930

3. https://www.awm.gov.au/index.php/articles/blog/queen-of-the-desert

Embracing Indigeneous Australians. .

Recently, a landmark speech spoke out about racism towards Indigenous Australians and I wanted to share it with you.This is a long post but I ask you to persevere with it and reflect. It’s not an easy topic to address but not something I could walk away from either.

While I am not an Indigenous Australian myself and haven’t experienced racism, I do know right from wrong and I think all Australians need to revisit how we view our Indigenous Australians and own up to the rampant racism which still grips hold of this country. It’s definitely not just something buried in the past. As a nation, we haven’t even begun to delve into what happened. To acknowledge the wrongs. No wound ever heals unless the infection is treated.

I realise that I’m stepping into a veritable quagmire even raising this issue and am wary in a sense of speaking out about something I know so little very about.

One of the first things you learn about writing is to write about what you know. Yet, I have never experienced racism and I’m not an Indigenous Australian and don’t walk  in their shoes, feet, skin or soul.

However, as a person living with a disability, I have experienced exclusion, discrimination and injustice. Metaphorically speaking, I know what it’s like to be the only kid in the class not to be invited to the party and how that feels. Imagine how you would feel if that same party was being held at your very own house and you still weren’t invited? You don’t need much empathy or compassion to know how that feels. It hurts like a knife cutting through your heart, leaving horrific and permanent scars.

I have experienced that sense of injustice when I go to pick my kids up from school and someone able-bodied without a permit parks in the Disabled Parking spot and when I ask them to move, give me flak. What the?!!

As soon as I read Stan Grant’s Speech, I knew I had to share it. Keep the fire going and even spread the flame. While Australians like to view themselves as the “Lucky Country”, we have quite a chequered history, including the genocide of Tasmanian Aboriginals. Instead of acknowledging our own crimes, we point the finger overseas: at the Germans over Nazi atrocities, at the South Africans over apartheid and Americans for their guns.

We’re just fine, totally neglecting the log in our own eye.

That as much as we like to paint ourselves as the “lucky country”, we have an appalling record in the treatment of Indigenous Australians. Our track record is too extensive for me to go into here but it’s very, very dark and I’m sure the average Australian over 30 doesn’t have a clue. Moreover, they don’t even consider the long term consequences of what has happened. After all, how would you expect anyone to respond when you take away their land, culture, community and even their children? It creates a sort of living death and who wouldn’t do just about anything to try to numb that pain?!! Wouldn’t you?!!

This week Australia celebrated Australia Day on 26th January while for many Australians, it was a day of sorrow…Invasion Day. Australia Day commemorates the arrival of the First Fleet at Botany Bay in 1788, which was the first European settlement here. I am a bit conflicted about Australia Day these days but we’ve also been flat out getting ready for back to school. So, we had a very low-key Australia Day. Indeed, we went to see Star Wars and by-passed Australia Day until watching the fireworks on TV.

Around Australia Day, I heard about a ground-breaking impromptu  speech by Indigenous Journalist Stan Grant. Referring to the speech, respected Australian journalist Mike Carlton tweeted:

Honestly. I think this Stan Grant speech will one day be viewed as a Martin Luther King moment. via

Here is the transcript of Grant’s speech:

Video

Stan Grant: ‘But every time we are lured into the light, we are mugged by the darkness of this country’s history’, Ethics Centre IQ2 debate – 2015

27 October 2015, City Recital Hall, Sydney, Australia

This speech was delivered in an IQ2 debate with the topic, ‘Racism is destroying the Australian dream’. Also for the affirmative was Pallavi Sinha. For the negative was Jack Thompson and Rita Panahi. The full debate is here

Thank you. Thank you so much for coming along this evening, and I’d also like to extend my respects to my Gadigal brothers and sisters from my people, the Wiradjuri people.

In the winter of 2015, Australia turned to face itself. it looked into its soul and it had to ask this question. Who are we? What sort of a country do we want to be.

And this happened in a place that is most holy, most sacred to Australians. It happened on the sporting field, it happened on the football field. Suddenly the front page was on the back page, it was in the grandstand.

Thousands of voices rose to hound an indigenous man, a man who was told he wasn’t Australian, a man who was told he wasn’t Australian of the Year.

And they hounded that man into submission.

I can’t speak for the what lay in the hearts of the people who booed Adam Goodes. But I can tell you what we heard when we heard those boos.

We heard a sound that is very familiar to us.

We heard a howl.

We heard a howl that of humiliation has echoes across two centuries of dispossession, injustice, suffering and survival.

We heard the howl of the Australian dream, and it said to us again, you’re not welcome.

The Australian dream.

We sing of it, and we recite it in verse.

Australians all let us rejoice for we are young and free.

My people die young in this country, we die ten years younger than average Australians and we are far from free.

We are fewer than three percent of the Australian population and yet we are 25 percent, a quarter of those Australians locked up in our prisons, and if you are a juvenile it is worse, it’s fifty percent. An indigenous child is more likely to be locked up in prison than they are to finish high school.

I love a sunburned country

A land of sweeping plains

Of rugged mountain ranges

It reminds me that my people were killed on those plains, we were shot on those plains, disease ravaged us on those plains. I come from those plains. I come from a people west of the Blue Mountains, the Wiradjuri people, where in the 1820s the soldiers and settlers waged a war of extermination against my people. Yes, a war of extermination! That was the language used at the time, go to the Sydney Gazette, and look it up, and read about it. Martial law was declared, and my people could be shot on sight.

Those rugged mountain ranges, my people, women and children were herded over those ranges to their deaths.

The Australian dream.

The Australian dream is rooted in racism. It is the very foundation of the dream. It is there at the birth of the nation . It is there in terra nullius.  An empty land. A land for the taking.

Sixty thousand years of occupation.

A people who made the first seafaring journey in the history of mankind.

A people of law, a people of lore, a people of music and art and dance and politics, none of it mattered.

Because our rights were extinguished because we were not here according to British law. And when British people looked at us, they saw something subhuman, and if we were human at all, we occupied the lowest rung on civilisation’s ladder.

We were fly blown, stone age savages and that was the language that was used.

Charles Dickens, the great writer of the age, when referring to the noble savage of which we were counted among, said ‘it would be better that they be wiped off the face of the earth’. Captain Arthur Phillip, a man of enlightenment, a man who was instructed to make peace with the so called natives in a matter of years, was sending out raiding parties with instruction ‘bring back the severed heads of the black troublemakers’.

They were smoothing the dying pillow.

My people were rounded up and put on missions, from where, if you escaped. You were hunted down, you were roped and tied and dragged back, and it happened here, it happened on the mission that my grandmother and great grandmother were from, the Warrengesda on the Darling Point of the Murrumbidgee River.

Read about it. It happened.

By 1901 when we became a nation, when we federated the colonies, we were nowhere. We’re not in the Constitution, save for ‘Race Provisions’ — which allowed for laws to be made that would take our children, that would invade our privacy, that would tell us who we could marry and tell us where we could live.

The Australian dream.

By 1963, the year of my birth, the dispossession was continuing. Police came at gunpoint under cover of darkness to Mapoon an aboriginal community in Queensland, and they ordered people from their homes, and they burned those homes to the ground, and they gave the land to a bauxite mining company. And today those people remember that as ‘The Night of the Burning’.

In 1963 when I was born, I was counted amongst the flora and fauna, not among the citizens of this country.

Now you will hear things tonight, you will hear people say, ‘but you’ve done well!’

Yes I have, and I’m proud of it, and why have I done well?

I’ve done well because of who came before me.

I’ve done well because of my father, who lost the tips off three fingers working in saw mills to put food on our table, because he was denied an education.

My grandfather, who served to fight wars for this country when he was not yet a citizen and came back to a segregated land where he couldn’t even share a drink with his digger mates in the pub because he was black.

My great grandfather who was jailed for speaking his language to his grandson – my father – jailed for it!

My grandfather on my mother’s side who married a white woman who reached out to Australia, lived on the fringes of town, until the police came, put a gun to his head, bulldozed his tin humpy, and ran over over the graves of the three children he’d buried there.

That’s the Australian dream. I have succeeded in spite of the Australian dream, not because of it; and I have succeeded because of those people.

You might hear tonight, ‘but you have white blood in you.’ And if the white blood in me was here tonight, my grandmother, she would  tell you of how she was turned away from a hospital giving birth to her first child because she was giving birth to the child of a black person.

The Australian dream. We’re better than this.

I’ve have seen the worst of the world as a reporter. I’ve spent a decade in war zones, from Iraq to Afghanistan, and Pakistan. We are an extraordinary country, we are in so many respects the envy of the world. If I were sitting here, where my friends are tonight (gestures to opponents] I would be arguing passionately for this country.

But I stand here with my ancestors, and the view looks very different from where I stand.

The Australian dream.

We have our heroes.

Albert Namatjira painted the soul of this nation.

Vincent Lingiari put his hand out for Gough Whitlam to pour the sand of his country through his fingers, and say ‘this is my country’.

Cathy Freeman lit the torch for the Olympic Games.

But every time we are lured into the light, we are mugged by the darkness of this country’s history.

Of course racism is killing the Australian dream! It is self evident that it is killing the Australian dream.

But we are better than that.

The people who stood up and supported Adam Goodes and said, ‘no more’, they are better than that.

The people who marched across the bridge for reconciliation, they are better than that.

The people who supported Kevin Rudd when he said sorry to the Stolen Generations, they are better than that.

My children and their non indigenous friends are better than that.

My wife who is non indigenous is better than that.

And one day I want to stand here, and be able to say as proudly and sing as loudly as anyone in this room, Australians all let us rejoice.

Thanks you.

Source: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uEOssW1rw0…

For those of you who have taken the time to listen, much appreciated. I have pasted a link below to some further interviews with Aboriginal Australians about their reactions to Stan Grant’s speech. Also, if you are not aware of the racist bullying Adam Goodes experienced on the football field, here’s a link: Racist Attacks on Aboriginal Footballer, Adam Goodes

Best wishes and much love,

Rowena

Further reading:

http://www.ethics.org.au/on-ethics/blog/january-2016/stan-grant%E2%80%99s-speech-broke-your-heart-%E2%80%93-here%E2%80%99s-what