Stolen Generations’ voices preserved at National Library

Posted February 13, 2018 12:13:40

Judith Stubbs was just two when she and her five sisters were taken from extended family at the Brewarrina Mission and sent to the Cootamundra Aboriginal Girls Training Home.

Her two older brothers were removed to Kinchela. The year was 1943.

Nearly 60 years later Judith recorded her story, breaking down in tears as she recounted the pain of the physical and sexual abuse she endured in the home, and the “brainwashing” against her Indigenous heritage.

“The blacks didn’t want you and the whites didn’t want you,” she said.

“You sit on that fence all your life.”

Judith died in 2016 but her story has been preserved in a unique audio archive at the National Library of Australia (NLA).

Her daughter Rebecca Bateman is the NLA’s newly-appointed Indigenous curator and she said she was determined to make stories such as her mother’s more publicly available.

“Listening to my mum’s story reminds me of what a strong and articulate woman and clever woman she was,” Ms Bateman said.

“She was very passionate about making sure Australia knew what had happened.”

In her oral history, Judith recounted screaming and running away when “an old black man” appeared outside her primary school, calling out to her and her sister Lorraine.

“We were told that [the blacks] were all drunks and no good,” she said.

Years later she learnt that the man was her grandfather.

She never saw him again.

“He must have been absolutely determined to get the girls back,” Ms Bateman said.

“To have that kind of reaction — even though maybe on some level he would have understood where it was coming from — it still would have been really heartbreaking I imagine.”

Oral histories followed royal commission

More than 300 people — survivors and administrators of the child removal policy — were interviewed between 1998 and 2002 for the Bringing Them Home Oral History Project.

A shorter series of follow up recordings was made in 2010, two years after Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s apology to the Stolen Generations.

Ten years on from the apology, Ms Bateman has vivid memories of the day.

“Mum didn’t actually … want to come down to Canberra … to the live apology … she thought it would be too much for her,” she said.

“So I went to her place in Sydney and we sat there and watched it on the TV — both bawled our eyes out.”

At the time, Judith was ambivalent about the apology, wondering what it would mean to her on a day-to-day basis.

“There was some reluctance to accept it for what it was,” Ms Bateman said.

“Although obviously on an emotional level it did mean an enormous amount to her to have that acknowledgement that … yes, this happened.”

Ms Bateman said the oral histories were an important record of recent Australian history and a way to foster understanding.

“There’s still a lot of people who think that all the bad things that happened to Aboriginal people happened 200 years ago,” Ms Bateman said.

“While those misconceptions linger there’s never going to be a full, proper understanding between the entire community.”

A selection of the oral histories are available to listen to online.

Topics: indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander, indigenous-policy, library-museum-and-gallery, history, human-interest, canberra-2600

Barack Obama praises wife Michelle’s ‘hotness’ as official portraits unveiled

Updated February 13, 2018 06:53:51

Former United States president Barack Obama joked about his ears and grey hair and praised his wife Michelle Obama’s “hotness” at the unveiling of the couple’s official portraits at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery.

The Obamas tapped artists Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald for the paintings, which will be added to the National Portrait Gallery’s collection of presidential portraits.

Wiley and Sherald were the first black artists ever commissioned to paint a president or first lady for the Smithsonian.

For his portrait by Wiley, Mr Obama is depicted sitting in a brown chair with a backdrop of bright green leaves and colourful flowers.

Ms Obama’s painting shows her sitting with one hand under her chin and the other draped across her lap, while wearing a long flowing dress decorated with geometric shapes.

Mr Obama, who was the first African-American US president, complimented Sherald for her portrait.

“I want to thank you for so spectacularly capturing the grace and beauty and intelligence and charm and hotness of the woman that I love,” Mr Obama said.

He quipped that Wiley, who painted his portrait, was at a disadvantage because his subject was “less becoming”.

“I tried to negotiate less grey hair and Kehinde’s artistic integrity would not allow him to do what I asked,” Mr Obama said.

“I tried to negotiate smaller ears — struck out on that as well.”

The Obamas both expressed awe at their portraits, noting that they were the first people in their families to ever sit for an official painting.

Ms Obama said she hoped the portrait would have an impact on young girls of colour in the years ahead.

“They will look up and they will see an image of someone who looks like them, hanging on the wall of this great American institution,” she said.

“I know the kind of impact that will have on their lives, because I was one of those girls.”

The Portrait Gallery’s tradition of commissioning presidential portraits began with former president George HW Bush.

Other portraits were acquired as gifts, bought at auctions or through other means.


Topics: visual-art, arts-and-entertainment, human-interest, painting, united-states

First posted February 13, 2018 06:51:22

The art of photographing strangers on the streets of Sydney

Posted February 12, 2018 08:00:39

Everyday photographer Jon Lewis hits the streets to document the ever-changing cosmopolitan face of Sydney.

“What I’m trying to say in it is everybody is important, it’s not just us long-legged white fellas,” he said of the purpose of his work.

“It’s also Asian people, it’s also Indigenous people, it’s also religious people, it’s all that.”

Over the past four years his daily ritual has involved pulling up strangers to make impromptu portraits with the available light.

Lewis can’t predict who he will encounter or what will attract him to certain characters on his journeys.

“I have no idea until I see it, but up until that stage it’s always been a time of wondering what’s going to surprise me or indeed talk to me.”

Last year the State Library of NSW acquired a selection of 50 images from his growing street portraits series that currently includes more than 750 pictures.

Lewis’s portraits appear compositionally straightforward, but it’s a technique he has worked to perfect over a career spanning five decades.

“I’ve always loved [photography] through my adult life.

“Anything good is a gift in this world because the world is so buggered.”

Born to an Australian father and Jewish-American mother in Maryland, USA, Lewis came to live in Australia in 1951.

In the 1970s he co-founded Greenpeace Australia and rubbed shoulders with other prominent creatives as part of the Yellow House art collective in Sydney’s Potts Point.

The profession took him to Europe, Asia, the Pacific and outback Australia, and led to his documentary-styled images being acquired by cultural institutions and private collectors around the globe.

“It’s nice to have the world seen in photographs, of things that actually happened and meant something to a great deal of people.”

Lewis’s assistant Sarah Barker plays a critical role in curating, exhibiting and highlighting the photographs through social media.

“I think it’s important work that needs people to see it,” Ms Barker said.

“It says a lot about society, our shared humanity and how we have more in common than we do different.”

In her opinion the best of Lewis’s images are the result of his friendly and transparent approach with the subjects.

“Most street photography is done with the people unaware that they’re being photographed, whereas he really wants them to be an active part of what he’s doing,” she said.

“So that’s why he seeks permission; engaging with them, it makes them a very interactive part of the photograph.”

“I think it’s dignified and the way to get good work is to acknowledge the person that you’re photographing,” Lewis added.

Although he’s a veteran behind the lens, Lewis admitted that approaching people could still be a challenge.

“Every time I make a photograph I get a little frightened; I’m not particularly comfortable.

“But generally speaking people are wonderful and they’re most accommodating, and if you’re correct and happy with them they will usually be easy to photograph.”

While he always carries a light camera kit, Lewis let in on one tip for making engaging portraits of strangers.

“Humour is a wonderful thing to bring along when you photograph people that you don’t know.”

His exhibition Perfect Strangers is on display at The Photography Room in Canberra until March 4.

Topics: fine-art-photography, photography, human-interest, people, multiculturalism, community-and-society, sydney-2000

The teenager who made a sold-out feature film in secret

Posted February 11, 2018 10:00:38

A Darwin-raised filmmaker has sold out a cinema with a premiere screening of a film that was made almost entirely in secret.

We’re Family Now tells the story of a dysfunctional family navigating new and tumultuous circumstances — a mature storyline for a student filmmaker who’s not even 20 years old.

Nathaniel Kelly, who studies screen production at AFTRS in Sydney, returned to his stomping ground to launch the feature film last week.

The domestic drama was almost two years in the making, with a 20-day shoot taking place in Darwin and relying upon a handful of Kelly’s mates.

“It’s great having mates that like to act but are also interested in the technical side of things; if you’re not acting, just jump behind the camera and give us a hand,” Kelly said.

There was no distributor and no marketing for the film, the budget for which was a cool $0.

Instead, the project was propelled along with community support, including a leading turn from local character Phil O’Brien.

“But I hadn’t even asked him until about two months before we started filming,” Kelly said.

“It was like I just assumed we’d get him.”

O’Brien said the shoot probably cost him more to appear in than it cost Kelly to make.

“He’s a sensitive sort of humble young bloke, but don’t get sucked in,” said O’Brien, who flew from interstate to appear in the movie.

“When you’re filming he can crack the whip.

“He showed me the script and it was like the Old Testament.

“I had to know it word for word; I couldn’t put any of my own stuff in there. That just wasn’t on.”

There were more signs the film was more than just a student project when Kelly made plans to premiere it at a local cinema.

“We thought we might get 50 tickets, just to cover the hire costs of the venue,” he said.

The film started to sell out before Kelly had even booked his own seat.

Finding unlikely inspiration in suburban Darwin

Films shot in the Top End tend to make use of the area’s sprawling surrounds, where brilliant green foliage, blue lagoons and sprawling landscapes make any shot look painterly.

But Kelly bucked the trend of films like Ten Canoes and the Crocodile Dundee franchise, instead finding inspiration in something closer to home.

“I was really inspired by films like The Castle.

“What I really wanted to capture was, like, suburbia.

“Darwin is painted as this amazing rural town with sweeping landscapes and stuff, and it does have all that, but I wanted to show a different side — this really domestic side.

“That’s where the idea came from, and the stories are just reworked stories and emotions from all of our lives, just me and the small crew that I work with.”

Another advantage to shooting in Darwin, Kelly found, was that the relaxed, happy-go-lucky attitude of locals extended to the use of public space.

“Even though there are still rules and regulations in place, a lot of people are a lot more friendly about shooting in public spaces and are willing to help you out,” he said.

“And not ask for money when they know you don’t have any.”

‘Life didn’t exist without filmmaking’

Growing up in Darwin, Kelly recalled getting his hands on a video camera his father used to own.

He hit record almost as soon as he could put sentences together, making shorts with his little sister, and never looked back.

“I picked up a camera at four and I think I made my first short film, just with my sister,” he said.

“I can’t really remember back that far, but it just felt like life didn’t exist without filmmaking.”

(His younger sister reprised a role in We’re Family Now as an adopted girl from a disadvantaged family.)

In high school, Kelly’s friends pointed him to films by Martin Scorsese, Christopher Nolan and other popular directors who tend to take innovative approaches to storytelling while employing a distinct visual style.

“I think my filmmaking style was really organic up until about high school when a lot of friends started showing me their favourite films and we started taking a lot of stylistic references from them,” he said.

“Personally I don’t think too many directors specifically have influenced my style, but definitely whatever I watch I take notes, whether it be a documentary or a short film or something I see in the cinemas.”

Darwin is not particularly well-known for its filmmaking scene, and most of the Northern Territory’s cinematic luminaries, such as Rachel Perkins and Warwick Thornton, have come from Alice Springs.

But Kelly continued to make the most of what the city had to offer, submitting shorts to local film festivals, some of which have now ceased to exist.

Despite a promising career that might eventually buck this trend, the teenager hasn’t told many of his Sydney classmates of his debut feature’s success.

“At my university I just keep a really low key,” he said.

“Everyone there’s in the industry; you don’t want to stand out. I’m under the radar.”

Topics: film-movies, youth, human-interest, darwin-0800

Folding umbrella’s ‘flirtatious’ history never forgotten

Posted February 10, 2018 09:00:40

February 10 is World Umbrella Day, an occasion not typically marked by raucous celebrations but one always remembered in Melbourne’s east.

In East Malvern is the former home and studios of Karl and Slawa Duldig, which is now a museum of their impressive artwork including bronzes by Karl, a renowned modernist sculptor.

It also holds an early prototype of an Austrian-invented folding, collapsible umbrella.

Slawa Duldig invented and patented the umbrella design in 1928 when she was still Slawa Horowitz.

Both Polish-born, she and Karl met while studying sculpture in Vienna.

The two would frequently draw together on Sundays in the surrounds of the Kunsthistorisches Museum.

Their daughter Eva, who founded the Duldig museum, said it was on one of the drawing excursions that Slawa came up with the idea for the folding umbrella.

Writing before her death in 1975, Slawa recalled that it was a rainy May day in 1928.

“I armed myself with a big umbrella and muttered to myself: ‘Why on Earth must I carry this utterly clumsy thing? Can’t they invent a small folding umbrella which could be easily carried in a bag?'”

She went home and spent some time coming up with her design.

A prototype was built with parts from watchmakers, and she made sure not to buy too many parts from any one place.

“She didn’t want anyone to cotton on that she was doing this umbrella thing,” Eva said.

The ‘magic umbrella’

Slawa obtained a patent for her invention in 1928 and successfully licensed the design to manufacturers in Austria and Germany.

Patents for folding, telescopic umbrellas date back to at least 1896 but Slawa’s improvements were elegant.

She simplified the folding mechanism, allowing the whole umbrella to be smaller and more practical.

The umbrella went on the market with an unusual name.

“The little umbrella was called Flirt, which was very with it,” Eva said.

“It was still seen as quite a luxury item; it was beautifully finished and made out of nice materials.”

The Flirt was featured at the 1931 Inventor’s Fair in Vienna, with the press describing it as “the magic umbrella of the sculptress”.

Slawa married Karl that same year and her business helped to fund their new life together.

“She was able to furnish the whole house with this beautiful customised art furniture made by a very well-known firm in Vienna,” Eva said.

Secret stowaways

Slawa gave birth to Eva on February 11, 1938, one month before the Nazis marched into Austria.

The young family fled via Switzerland, but under pressure from the Nazis Slawa sold her rights to the umbrella to company Brüder Wüster.

She was, however, able to evade the authorities and secretly put the umbrella prototypes into storage.

Eva’s book Driftwood tells the remarkable story of how her parents escaped Austria and wound up in Australia while keeping their possessions hidden from the Nazis.

She said she applied an important lesson from her mother while writing their history.

“Even though I was writing the book for 40 years, I didn’t tell anyone … I kept it quiet until it was out.”

Topics: inventions, 20th-century, design, history, people, human-interest, malvern-east-3145, melbourne-3000

Arctic birds, seals and reindeer killed by marine plastics

Updated February 09, 2018 19:40:30

Think of the Arctic and you are likely to picture a vast white expanse of pristine snow and ice alongside crystal blue seas, with polar bears, seals and other wildlife in prime condition.

But increasingly this remote wilderness is becoming the last stop for vast amounts of plastic junk littering the ocean.

A new report illustrates the scale of contamination in the Norwegian and Barents Seas north of Scandinavia, and shows that no corner of the Earth is immune from the scourge of plastic pollution.

Virtually everywhere researchers look they find plastic, according to the report by the Norwegian Polar Institute.

Even in remote areas with relatively low human impact, it says the concentration of plastic waste in the European Arctic is now comparable or even higher than in more urban and populated areas.

And there are signs the amount of plastic is increasing, with global plastic production reaching 322 million tonnes in 2015 and predicted to grow by around 4 per cent a year.

The report warns ocean debris poses a threat to marine organisms via entanglement, ingestion or as a vector for alien species.

And nowhere is the impact of plastic waste more heart-wrenching than on Arctic wildlife — from fish and small invertebrates, to seabirds, seals and even reindeer.

In Svalbard for example an archipelago halfway between Norway and the North Pole — 87.5 per cent of fulmar birds (ocean birds in the petrel family) were found to have plastic in their stomachs, a quarter of which were at levels of 0.1 grams or more, contrary to the Convention for the Protection of the Marine Environment of the North-East Atlantic, which has set a target of less than 10 per cent of the fulmar population with such an amount.

Fulmars are particularly vulnerable to plastic ingestion because unlike gulls and many other birds they do not regurgitate and retain more plastic in their gastrointestinal tract.

Previous studies have shown surface-feeding birds, including fulmars, ingest far more plastic than pursuit feeders, which dive to obtain food, because these are less likely to ingest floating debris.

Though diving birds are more likely to be susceptible to entanglement in abandoned nets and fishing gear or larger marine plastic debris.

The proliferation of discarded fishing gear affects more than just seabirds.

Seals and reindeer have been found strangled or caught in ghost nets and rope, both on land and in the sea.

In one case a reindeer, with its antlers caught in derelict fishing nets, had to be put down.

Geir Wing Gabrielsen, one of the report’s authors says abandoned fishing gear from boats and trawlers accounts for the vast majority of marine plastics found in Svalbard, although further south most plastics come from household goods.

Environmentalists are particularly alarmed at the growth of microplastics, which range in size from 5 millimetres down to 1 micrometre, and include both fibres from fishing equipment or textiles, and fragments of larger plastics that have broken down.

Microplastics are now found everywhere in Arctic waters, and of the same order of magnitude as those found in the North Atlantic and North Pacific oceans.

In some places researchers have found concentrations of up to 234 particles of plastic in one litre of melted sea ice, far higher even than in some of the most polluted currents in the open ocean.

The Norwegian Polar Institute estimates microplastics make up about 1 million of the 8-12 million tons of plastic that enter the ocean annually.

Of those, about 1 per cent are floating, 5 per cent are found on beaches, and the remaining 94 per cent sink to the ocean floor.

It says the high levels of micro and small plastics found in sea ice highlight the importance of management action to reduce marine litter globally.

Bo Eide, an environmental consultant at Norway’s Tromso Council, spends much of his time working to clean up the country’s Arctic fjords.

“Just last year I think we took 30 tonnes [of marine plastic and debris] — household litter, food wrapping, bottles,” Mr Eide said.

“But the main part weight-wise is equipment from fisheries. Lots and lots and lots of pieces of rope. Some are cut. Some are obviously torn.

“The international fishing fleet is operating offshore. And we clearly find signs that they contribute to this. But still we find litter from all over Europe, and even some from across the Atlantic.

“I mean you can throw a thing into the ocean in Florida, and think, ‘Hey, I’ve thrown it away’. And then it might end up on our shores. They rather quickly break down into smaller pieces and even tiny little fibres,” he told the BBC.

“I think the coastline as a whole, I think you can characterise it as a microplastics factory. It’s so obvious that what we’re doing here is the tip of the tip of the iceberg. But it is the visible tip really. This is what is readily available.”

The report predicts global plastics production will double again within 20 years and quadruple by 2050.

By then it is predicted there will be more plastic by weight than fish in the world’s oceans, according to a prediction made in 2016 at the United Nations World Economic Forum.

Asia is the largest producer of plastic, with 45 per cent of total world production, followed by Europe and the US at 40 per cent.

Yet, on average barely 14 per cent of plastics are recycled. Around 40 per cent end up in landfill and 32 per cent in ecosystems such as the world’s oceans.

The UN says leakage to the oceans is largest in Asia — at 82 per cent, against just 2 per cent from the US and Europe and 16 per cent from the rest of the world.

Climate change also threatens to increase the contamination of Arctic waters.

The colder waters of the Arctic have traditionally acted as a barrier to alien organisms attached to microplastics washed in on warmer currents.

But that barrier has been weakened as the seas have warmed and sea ice has melted.

The report also warns plastic litter will damage the travel and tourism industries, by diminishing the environmental and wildlife values of the Arctic circle.

Topics: fishing-aquaculture, rural, land-pollution, water-pollution, environment, pollution, plastics-and-rubber, oceans-and-reefs, animals, human-interest, animals-and-nature, canada, finland, greenland, iceland, russian-federation, norway

First posted February 09, 2018 19:36:19

A love letter to water unveiled in curious collection

Updated February 09, 2018 11:49:52

British artist Amy Sharrocks asked and the people of Western Australia delivered.

It was a strange request; bottle your tears, runoff from sprinklers, or any other water that has meaning in your life.

Now the vast and unusual collection has gone on display.

“We have 319 bottles so far of water, any water, in any bottle, that people have given us over the past year,” Sharrocks said.

“We have water of all shapes and sizes. We have the toothpaste spit from a whole family who gathered one evening to collect it.

“We have water from the Canning Dam, water from a sprinkler, from a young girl who said that she wanted fast water so she ran around after the sprinkler trying to catch it.”

There is also a contribution from a woman who collected the amniotic fluid when she gave birth.

“We have so many detailed, intimate moments of people’s lives that they have shared with us.”

Water is essential

Laid out on platforms that resemble ripples or waves, the collection is both an artwork and a historic record.

It will be given to the Western Australian Museum permanently after the display ends at Fremantle Arts Centre.

But why did Sharrocks, who has created so-called museums of water in Britain and the Netherlands, want people to bottle the liquid in their daily lives and put it on display?

“It’s the most essential thing. We can’t live without it for any length of time,” she said.

“It’s a metaphor that we use for thinking all the time. We say, ‘my ideas have dried up’, or we can be ‘flooded with emotion’.

“We claim a connection to water every day, but we also throw it away, step on it, flush it, protect ourselves against it.

“I wanted to just ask people to think a bit more clearly about it.”

Tears from an argument saved

Accompanying each bottle is a handwritten explanation from the donor, telling the story behind the water.

“Some stories are incredibly sad and heartbreaking and some are hilarious,” Sharrocks said.

A teenage girl offered up a large volume of tears she shed during an argument with her mother.

The two hardly ever talked seriously, the girl said, so the moment was quite special.

A group of five friends who have been swimming together for years put their goggles and water from the pool in five glass jars to celebrate their time following the black line.

A midwife brought in a specimen jar of urine.

“She said it’s the urine that I test and that tells me everything about the health of the mum and baby,” Sharrocks said.

“Actually that bottle arrived warm.”

Facing a drier future

The aim of the museum is to encourage people to think about just how important water is in their lives.

“We are facing a drier future,” Sharrocks said.

Cape Town is heading towards day zero, Perth’s water is over 80 per cent from desalination plants.

“That kind of vulnerability of existence here and around the world is a terrifying prospect which we are all facing.

“It felt very timely to ask people what they thought about water, to reconsider how much we need water.

“This is a love letter to water. It’s let me count the ways that I notice how you run through my day.”

Creating the museum in Perth, Sharrocks said she had been struck by the different attitude to water in a drought-prone country.

“You are really good in Western Australia at hoarding it, in your rain tanks, so many people have told me about the buckets and pots they put out.

“You are good at holding on to it, but I wonder if we can all benefit from a little more consideration of how to equip us for this drier future.”

The Museum of Water is on display at Fremantle Arts Centre until March 23 as part of the Perth International Arts Festival.

Topics: visual-art, water, library-museum-and-gallery, carnivals-and-festivals, offbeat, human-interest, perth-6000

First posted February 09, 2018 11:41:31