The below poem was written in response to a panel discussion held at Kogarah Library on the 12th July for NAIDOC week, 2018. The panel consisted of Linda Burney MP, local Aboriginal elder Annette Webb and educator and artist Kerry Toomey. I found the conversations and shared histories very moving and this poem was penned in response to their family stories of stolen children and wages, especially Kerry Toomey's recollections of her female family members washing laundry.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all three women for their generosity and exceptional strength.
Kerry Toomey is currently exhibiting in the Broadhurst Gallery at Hazelhurst Arts Centre. Her show ‘Washed Out’ explores family, love and “growing up an outsider in your own country.” It is a broad exhibition showcasing the artists interests and experimentations within a multitude of mediums.
Get along to it ASAP as it finishes on the 24th July.
Quote taken from Hazelhurst Arts Centre 2018 program guide.
Hazelhurst Arts Centre
782 Kingsway, Gymea NSW
Mon-Sun 10am - 5pm
Washing clean, drying straight.
Thick linen, nice and white.
Warm from the sun, beautiful to embrace.
Sitting in baskets, learning to fold.
Picking with pegs, little dollies to hold.
Stories of history chattered about, with baskets slung on hips. They pottered about.
Thick linen, nice and white. Just a memory until tonight.
A woman told her washed memory and it resonated with me.
At its start she painted a picture I could totally see.
Of my grandmother, aunt, mother and me.
Folding washing and singing under a gum tree.
They shared their faith and their love. Their grief and shame.
Imprinted on me, themes from the past. Repeated time again.
But her white washed story bore a more sinister past.
Where she and her family could only speak when asked.
Always on guard less they came to take them away.
Here’s where her and my story started to stray.
Mine bore no record of theft, or repression.
Of a government hell bent on cultural suppression.
My family stories spoke of improvement and toil.
Of moving up the ladder, of getting the spoils.
Hers spoke of fear, time and time again.
Of unpaid work and generational shame.
Washing women clean, making them nice and white.
Out of mind, then out of sight.
Thick linen, white linen.
Background sound piece made with Audacity.
Bird sounds from www.birdsinbackyards.net