Indigenous artists artwork is displayed on NBN boxes throughout the City of Swan.
NOONGAR artist Philip Hansen, who learnt to paint on paperbark, was in Midland last week to check out his South West landscape that is wrapped around an nbn box on the corner of The Avenue and Keane Street.
Hansen was born in Katanning but lived in Wagin before he was taken away to the Wandering Mission.
He returned to his parents Felix Hansen and Marjorie (nee Wallam) when he was about 15-years old and they moved to Allawah Grove settlement in South Guildford.
The men used to go and gather bark from the paperbark trees around the swamps and bring them back to the old women sitting there and the teenagers.
His mother encouraged him to start painting on the bark.
Hansen said learning how to paint on rough surfaces first meant his hand reflexes were smooth.
“After paperbark I started on masonite and then mum went and bought two canvases for me – not like they are now already pre-made,’’ he said.
“Dad went and got a piece of old canvas from Midland Railway Workshops – it was like a tarpaulin but it was canvas.
“He didn’t know the difference – I didn’t know either. Anyway I started painting on that and from there went on and on and on.
“I can’t live without doing my art - I’ve got to be doing art.’’
Aboriginal artist King Wally played a big role in his life.
“How to be a man, you know man things. Nothing to do with art but how to act like a man.
“How to respect – the main thing that came out of his mouth was you don’t respect your elders you don’t respect yourself.
“That’s why I gotta respect everybody – poor people, the old people, good people – I even respect ratbags sometimes.’’
A kangaroo or an Aboriginal symbol is on each of his paintings.
“You see kangaroos in all my paintings.
“To me they’re not kangaroos they are the black man - black family.
“You paint blackfellas on paintings these days and they don’t buy them so I twist it around the other way and paint black kangaroos and they buy the black kangaroos but most of them won’t buy the black man.’’
Hansen get ideas for his paintings via an intuitive process.
“If I see something on TV or travelling well I don’t need a camera I’ve got a camera in my head.
As soon as I sit down, as soon as I put that paint brush in my hand it comes to me what I want to do.
“Then I go into my own little world.’’
Sometimes this intense focus leads to frustration from his wife Beverley Woods.
He jokes it sometimes leads her to chastise him about drinking his tea before it gets cold.
When he lived in the area he worked at the shire and the Midland abattoir and other jobs as the couple had three children.
As well as featuring in the Swan Street Gallery Hansen’s artwork is part of the City’ of Swan’s art collection by local Noongar artists along with Norma MacDonald and Jeanette Garlett who have through their artworks expressed their familial connections to Midland.
Swan Street Gallery is a local arts initiative supported by the City of Swan and funded by nbn’s Rapt program.
NORMA MacDonald’s artwork on an nbn box at Coal Dam Park is representative of her goal to tell the history of her family, particularly the story of her Aboriginal mother Doris.
Years ago the now national and internationaly recognised Mahogany Creek artist, whose people are Yamatji and Noongar, started telling her story and family history through her artwork.
“I couldn’t write it because when I was a young girl dad didn’t let me go to high school, that was his way,’’ she said.
Part of the Swan Street Gallery, the focal point of the painting is the face of a woman representing MacDonald’s grandmother Rosie, who was taken from her family as a young girl and placed in the Moore River settlement where Doris was born.
The family members past and present are presented as though they are part of a photo album.
Also depicted are homes they lived in, towns and farming properties they worked on and fencing is also prominent in the painting.
Her mum’s brothers were in the mission so the painting also includes a cross as they were little altar boys, her grandad’s old T-Ford and a mia mia used when family members were out bush.
MacDonald’s grandfather James, who had also been taken from his family and placed in a foster home, did a lot of fencing work.
“The rabbit proof fencing – grandad used to do that work on the white stations and mum did all the cleaning and it was really hard going for her and grandma.’’
Her mother went from that to marrying her white father, who she had met in Geraldton.
After MacDonald was born in Geraldton her father went off to war.
“He drank a lot because he came back from the war and things were different - he was a different man - like many who drowned themselves at the RSL.
“It’s sad really and being Anzac Day (recently) I think of my dad and I did say to my dad – thank you on that side of it.’’
Her mother and father split up after 43 years of marriage and MacDonald starting researching the family history and using her artwork to express what she found.
“I did it all in my artwork and went and did my diploma, a lot of children’s books and everything and I was able to show that to my dad before he passed away.’’
Once she heard her father telling her sister he was proud of his oldest daughter: “I nearly fell over as that was the first time he’d ever said anything like that.’’
As she continued her research she couldn’t believe what was happening with Indigenous people so she decided in her lifetime she was going to try and change it.
“I told the history in my artwork – I’ve got my diploma in fine arts and I had to have my writing ability to do all the study.
“I’ve done huge public arts out there to tell everybody I am an Indigenous person and that’s what I say and all my family now acknowledge their mother as an Aboriginal and not the other words that used to come out of dad’s mouth.
“It’s just my way of correcting the wrong, doing it quietly, you don’t have to jump up and down, just do it and be seen to do it.’’
The former Bellevue and Midland resident was the eldest of nine.
“It’s not until you really grow up you realise how strict mum was and I thank her for that.
“We might have got a few hidings but we probably deserved it but it was a way of mum not losing her children and little did we know.
“She fought to keep all her children, keep us clean and live with what we had and dad was in the Midland Railways – he was a guard on the railways for many years and then first stop was the hotel so he was like that.
“Mum never drank - many times we kids slept outside because of dad coming home and there’d be rows – we were all scared and used to run out – no wonder we didn’t do any good at schooling.
“Mum was really dark so you couldn’t miss her as being Aboriginal so you’d get hard times at school.’’
When her mother attended her first exhibition she wanted MacDonald to go in without her.
“I said mum this is all about you, I’m not going in there to the talk without you and that’s how it was from that time on she was so excited every two years I’d have an exhibition - I love my mum and I miss her.
“She took me back bush for about 10 years and taught me the ways - what her mother taught her so I was able to ask mum a lot of things.”
THESE days Nerolie Bynder, whose artwork is part of the Swan Street Gallery, is no longer the shy artist who kept her back to everyone when she started attending art classes more than a decade ago.
When the proud Badimia-Noongar-Yamatji and now contemporary visual artist Bynder started art classes in 2010 she occupied a desk in the corner with her little son in his baby capsule on the table, she had little confidence.
But the success of her art changed that.
“I like the quiet behind the scenes but getting a bit more out there now,’’ she said.
“Professionally I started going to art and yarning in Langford Aboriginal Association in about 2010.
“Relationships Australia were having exhibitions for NAIDOC Week and I entered one in that for the first in 2010.
One artwork sold there for $150 and that helped get her inspired.
“I (also) liked the feeling of doing the art and the feeling of someone else liking it – they bought it straight away.”
Bynder has always had art around her as her mum was a kindie teacher assistant and she always brought arts and craft home.
Her artwork wrapped around the NBN box across on Great Eastern Highway near the corner of Victoria Street combines a series of the six Noongar seasons.
“I like how they have put it together as it’s all blended together in this piece of art.
“They worked with me to say whether that’s okay – so it doesn’t change the art too much.’’
Each season is represented by some elements out of the season including what animals are around and what food is eaten.
“I mostly do acrylic on canvas but I do a lot more murals now and workshops with students and the two women’s prisons.”
With her art there is always a message – a lot of the art comes from her own personal inner spirit and what she likes to give to others.
“When they see it they are always really amazed and love it, it gives them good feelings and vibes and the story connects lot of people together - I like that.
“A lot of people give me their stories and I can paint that for them from a couple of sentences as I can vision a picture for it.
“I do a lot of commissions like that if they are not for corporations, people get them as gifts with personal stories attached.
“My family connection are from the south to the Midwest – it’s good to have all that connection, I like to entwine it all into my art.’’
She has lived in High Wycombe and is always drawn back to Midland by family.
The Swan Street Gallery is a local arts initiative supported by the City of Swan with NBN contributing funding.
NOONGAR woman Jeanette Garlett of the Midland, Upper Swan River region has a piece of her artwork decorating an NBN box next to Carnegie Triangle Park.
Altogether six NBN boxes in Midland and Woodbridge will over coming weeks be decorated with the work of local artists as part of a Swan Street Gallery project.
The idea for the street gallery came after former Woodbridge resident Morgan Shaw complained about tagging in the area and put forward the NBN’s artistic solution to graffiti.
Thanks to her late mother Elizabeth’s knowledge of country, culture and seasonal bush foods, Garlett has been able to create and paint her stories from a very early age.
Garlett’s Memories of the Swan Valley, 2019 was inspired by her recollections of areas such as Jane Brook, Toodyay Road, Wexcome (now called Stratton), Yagan’s bridge and as far north as Bindoon.
“I grew up an isolated person – a loner more or less.
“Then I went over east for nearly 30 years to Sydney then Queensland.’’
While there she had a son and worked in restaurants and looked after children.
“My dad was a timber cutter and provided timber for this workshop and the foundry and mum worked for the Italian and Yugoslavians so we went along all the way through,’’ she said.
A member of the Stolen Generations she was taken away from her mother when she was five-years-old and did not get back in contact with her family until she was 40.
“I lost them all – they were here but I didn’t know.’’
She said they would pass each other in the street and sometimes they would be looking at each other but didn’t know they were related.
“I worked in a restaurant near Johhny O’Keefe and Maureen O’Keefe’s shop in Darlinghurst, Oxford Street in Sydney.
“He used to come in around 10am - J.O.K - and he’d have his coffee.’’
Oil on canvas is Garlett’s favourite medium and her favourite bushfoods to paint are quandongs, yams and some bush medicines.
She plans for her paintings in the new year to be based on sunsets.
The Swan Street Gallery is a local arts initiative supported by the City of Swan and funded by NBN’s Rapt program - NBN contributed $5890.
The City and NBN both had a preference for artworks reflecting the local history of Midland.