Once in a Lifetime Yarns Series – Those who have gone before…
If you’ve had the chance to read through my introduction to this series, you know that it’s about taking the opportunity to look back, share stories and give acknowledgement to those who have influenced my journey, shared their knowledge and mentored me along the way. This is especially important to me in the second part of my series, as many would know, since my introduction to the series, we have lost two of our community champions in my father’s younger brother, Uncle Bill Smith and Uncle Ron Gordon, both of whom have played major roles in my life, as family and in working together, over many years, for our community.
It is for this reason that I’d like to acknowledge their contribution to the wonderful opportunities many of us partake in today. Their vision and work, alongside others who still lead or have gone before us, is the reason we continue our journey towards understanding, sharing and closing the gap for Aboriginal people. As I stop and ponder where I am today, look around me at the amazing opportunities I enjoy through sharing my art, from Aboriginal prints to Aboriginal cushion covers, I am grateful to be embraced by a legacy that continues in bringing change that is being passed onto future generations. I can only say a humble thank you to all who have fought for Aboriginal people to have a voice, gain equitable opportunity and to participate in our economy through viable business, which has greatly contributed to the success I and others experience today.
I feel privileged to do what I love and make a living and to be contributing, through my art, to reconciliation and ultimately toward closing the gap experienced by our people. It is something that is very close to my heart, as I’ve seen the effects of the gap within community and on those closest to me.
As a child of 11 I lost my father to heart disease at the age of 43. Being the eldest of 6 sibling my focus turned from school to helping at home trying to support my Mum. Education wasn’t a priority to me, and this became evident, leaving school at 16 with little to no confidence, very low marks and no prospects. However, today I am a big supporter of reconciliation, and the training and employment pathways Reconciliation Actions Plans can brings, as I am an example of what this type of opportunity can make in a young Aboriginal person’s life.
At the age of 17 I was invited by my Aunt Zelma Moran to be a part of the very first Aboriginal nursing employment program in NSW. While nervous and very shy I said yes, as I was going to train with other koori girls and had the support of Aboriginal mentors throughout our training. Astounding myself, I finished with a Credit and that experience totally changed my self image and gave me a positive vision for the future. From that point on I understood that I could do well at what I set my mind to. I controlled my own destiny. To this day, when I see my Aunt, I give her a big hug and thank her for helping me see my potential through inviting me to be a part of that pioneering program. It was instrumental in changing my life and undergirded my journey towards being a successful Aboriginal businesswomen and artist who can share our culture and build opportunities through Aboriginal artwork for sale, inviting the broader community to support our business’s, learn about our culture and enjoy our age-old visual storytelling through traditional symbolism in contemporary design.
I could not write this piece without mentioning the most influential, visionary and challenging mentor in my life, without whom I wouldn't have the experience, skill and confidence to operate within the space I currently do.
My cousin Jimmy Wright.
I miss you and appreciate the tough lessons you taught me through your amazing vision for Aboriginal people, high expectation and your strong belief in my ability. I had sleepless nights over some of the task you set me, as I worked alongside you as Administrator of Awabakal Co-operative, back in the day and later at Yarnteen Ltd. It was sink or swim on many occasions, but it is often, only in hindsight, that we see a little clearer the path we have travelled, and the lessons learnt. You taught me so much about working for our community in every arena. I continue to learn and grow and as I do can more fully appreciate and admire all you did for our community. You also gave me the big push I needed to share my artwork with others, when I was scared stiff, as each painting gives a little of myself on the canvas, but more about that later.
Sadly, we lost Jimmy back in 2016 and now more recently I was shocked to hear Uncle Bill had passed on.
He’d sounded in high spirits and keen to get together for a project we were collaborating on just 2 days before when we’d spoken on the phone, and this to be followed by the news that Ron has passed the next day! Both suddenly gone, so close together, was just a bit too much to take in. Both were still involved in a local project, working alongside myself and Professor John Maynard on the Yarn’s on Parai – Stories on Country, study and artwork for Transport for NSW (TfNSW). Doing what they loved, sharing knowledge and cultural with others. I know I, along with many others are going to miss their guidance, wisdom and yarns:
To Uncle Bill - We lost our family patriarch and a community lost one of its most loved and influential Leaders in my uncle Bill. Uncle was a pioneering businessman and Indigenous leader committed to finding a path to reconciliation. A proud Wonnarua, Anaiwan and Kamilaroi man who taught us to be proud of our identity and to walk tall, and through sharing keep Aboriginal culture alive. I am so proud to be his niece and will continue to work towards those values he shared with each of us. Uncle Bill’s heart for people and community was evident in everything he did and his love and leadership within our family has seen him father many who lost their parents throughout the years. My Uncle inspired, influence and encourage me throughout my life.
To Uncle Ron Gordon, or Ronny G, as I affectionally remember him being called during his time as Chair of Awabakal Co-op, when I first joined the team in the late 80’s. Awabakal was the organisation, beside Land Councils back than and Aboriginal community services sat under it’s umbrella. Ronny was always approachable, warm and kind hearted and I, along with many others, looked up to him as one of our most prominent and loved leaders in the Hunter. It was an honour to serve our community with Ron, both at Awabakal Co-op and later on the Yarnteen board.
TfNSW postponed the Yarns Parai community launch in respect of sorry business for the loss of Uncle Bill Smith and Uncle Ron Gordon and the rescheduled launch will now take place in October, acknowledging their contribution to this project, along with the acknowledgment of others who have been our mentors, shared knowledge and contributed to better opportunities for our community.
You are invited to attend the Yarns Parai Online Live Community Consultation Launch, please RSVP here
You can view the Yarns Parai project story map sharing cultural stories of the lower Hunter Region here: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/637752a29b9b45d49f97d1ba35ee949c
The artwork is currently on exhibition at the Museum of Art & Culture Lake Macquarie: View a virtual walkthrough with Saretta
Throughout my time working within community at Awabakal Co-op and Yarnteen, my love for art continued. I was always painting, drawing and experimenting with a variety of art mediums for my own enjoyment. I can’t recall the day I felt ok about calling myself an ‘Artist’ , but I think it was sometime after an unexpected opportunity came along in 2008. Uncle Paul Gordon gave me a call to invite me to be a part of the very first Aboriginal Art Exhibition at Honeysuckle Newcastle, to launch Indigenous Bush Tucker Café’s in NSW. Paul had often seen my artwork as a friend and colleague and even though I only had personal art I wouldn’t sell, this once in a lifetime chance saw me run out and buy 10 blank canvas’s, which I quickly painted over that weekend. When more than half of my artworks sold, I was overjoyed to say the least! Others enjoyed my artwork and the dream that seemed so far off, that had been buried was re-ignited and all I can say is Wow! (A word my Uncle Bill used often). Wow! who would have thought that my journey would lead to the Aboriginal Art business of today that enables me to work in my passion.
I can’t thank everyone enough for your encouragement along the way and the support each of you bring, when engaging with us at Saretta Art & Design xox