Wellington’s previously untold history will be explored in an exhibition on Monday as part of Reconciliation Week.
The exhibition is titled Don’t Rope Me In, which refers to the ropes that were once used in Australia to segregate Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in movie theatres.
Curated by Jody Chester at the Macquarie Theatre, it will feature the publication Wellington which Redfern-based artist Mathieu Gallois worked on for two years, studying Wellington’s Aboriginal history during the time that his grandfather was editor of the Wellington Times (1944-66).
In conjunction with this, the work of four young Indigenous photographers, Jacob Forrest, Tjana Talbot, Brooke Thompson and Tara Stanley, will be on display providing a unique perspective on Aboriginal society today.
The publication Wellington is available for free in this edition of the Times due to funding of council, the Australia Council for the Arts and the Western Plains Cultural Centre.
Mr Gallois was first inspired to begin research for the publication when he was visiting Wellington in 2005 and met Elder Joyce Williams.
“Joyce told me a few things about the relationship between the Aboriginal people and the Chinese community, and how they were instrumental in their survival, primarily through labour, food and money in times of hardship,” he said.
From there he realised that there were many untold stories in the Aboriginal community that were an important part of Wellington’s history.
“It was really a collaboration between Joyce and I,” he said.
“She gave me full access to her own extensive records and opened many doors and introduced me to many members of the Aboriginal community. Without Joyce, I don’t think it would have happened.”
In the publication Joyce Williams shares her story of hardship and how she felt strongly from a young age the need to make a difference to the way that Aboriginal people were treated, especially in health care.
“I thought there has got to be something better than this for our people. We would have to have our babies in the back room of the hospital.”
For many years Joyce Williams and Vi Lousick worked tirelessly to establish WACHS.
“Whenever I signed off on a letter, it would be ‘yours sincerly, Joyce Williams, in a struggle’, because this is how I felt,” she said.
She feels that the publication will do good things for Wellington.
“Everybody should know our struggle, it was a struggle. Things have changed now I believe in reconciliation, it is coming up soon.”
Melle West, who wrote an excerpt in the publication about growing up at Nanima said that the publication was an innovative way to share the stories of a town.
“There are textbooks and there are different things that we could look at, but this is a fresh idea and an interesting look at the history behind Wellington,” she said.
“It’s allowing the representation of the Aboriginal
people; it allows a better understanding of a culture and not just the history behind Wellington, but Australia by shaping a relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people,” she said.
“I hope it inspires people to have a bit of understanding of Aboriginal culture and diversity of it in our community. It’s the first step in the right direction.”
The exhibition takes place on Monday from 6 to 8pm, with a smoking ceremony and speeches at 7pm. Other opening times are Monday 12 to 8pm, Tuesday to Friday 12 to 6pm, Saturday 10am to 2pm.
Readers of the publication are encouraged to write in to the Wellington Times with their thoughts on it.