Uncle Roy’s the same age as my Dad would have been if my Dad were still alive. I love spending time with elders. They’re knowledge holders and we should venerate older people much more than we do, particularly because if you have lived to old age as an Indigenous person you’re doing pretty well.
I have a copy of this [which I bought]. One of the incredible privileges of my work as a curator is including people in exhibitions, championing their work. That’s the best thing.
I organised an artist’s talk with Roy at the National Gallery of Australia. After the talk he said, pointing to his works in the gallery, ‘Are any of these for sale?’ And I said, ‘No, Roy they’re in the collection.’ And he said to the group, ‘Well, if youse want to buy any I’ve got some in me car boot outside.’ So we had this line up of people who’d come along for this artist’s talk, all out in the car park buying Roy’s prints. Roy’s a real character. I first met him in Sydney, he was hilarious. You meet him and he says, ‘oh yeah, I went to the Eora Centre but I wasn’t any good at writing or reading, so they stuck me in the art section.’ Hello! Duck to water! When you see them up close you see the fantastic line work in them.
You do almost need to see his etchings in a group setting because they are like a picture book and a lot of them are drawn from memory. They’re recollections of his mother’s life because she was at Warangesda Mission at Darling Point. I’ve actually driven through that country and I’ve seen this fantastic draw bridge. It’s been moved and it’s outside a caravan park on the Murrumbidgee River.
There’s a real gothic aspect to these works too. The church is often featured because that was the focal point of the community. They’re almost like aerial viewpoints. It’s remembering life on the mission and those were tough and hard times but people were together and did everything with each other. Everyone was poor but no one went without.