Stolen Generations artist to create artwork for Wellington Square

A WA Stolen Generations artist has been appointed to create artwork acknowledging the Stolen Generations, which will be placed at Wellington Square, Perth. Wellington Square has been the location for many Sorry Day events, and is a significant place for Stolen Generations survivors and countless generations of their forebears.

Sorry Day is held each year on 26 May. It is a day of healing, held to remember and commemorate the Stolen Generations – Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children who were forcibly removed from their families by successive Australian state and federal governments between the early 1900s to the 1970s. The Uniting Church WA supports Sorry Day events each year through the Bringing Them Home Committee.

This year, due to COVID-19 restrictions, Sorry Day will be broadcast over YouTube here from 10.00am. Tune in to hear stories from Stolen Generations survivors, and more.

The West Australian Stolen Generations Aboriginal Corporation (WASGAC), Yokai, and the City of Perth are delighted in the choice of artist Sandra Hill – an Elder and custodian of the Wadandi (salt water) people of the South West of WA – to create the Stolen Generations artwork. It is planned to be installed in time for Sorry Day 2021.

The artwork centres on ‘mias’ (homes) to represent regions of WA around a central Whadjuk Noongar centrepiece. The work will enhance the educational and ceremonial function of Wellington Square as a traditional gathering place for the Aboriginal community, and at events such as Sorry Day, as well as serve as a reflective space for individuals or small group use.

It will be a part of a dedicated place for healing and remembrance in the north-west corner of Wellington Square.

Yokai, along with the City of Perth, have worked closely with the Bringing Home Committee and the broader Aboriginal community over several years to commission this important public artwork. The process had involved constant consultation with Stolen Generations survivors and their families from the start.

Andrew Hammond, Chair Commissioner of the City of Perth, said working with Yokai and selecting Sandra Hill was a big step forward in Wellington Square’s development and an important part of the City’s Reconciliation Action Plan.

In the artist’s words

As a member of the Stolen Generations, Sandra Hill said that she knew first-hand what it was like for so many others in the community.

“I understand their grief, loss and heartbreak from having had that experience. I also understand what it’s like to survive that experience and the things that you hold forever in your heart. I understand what needs to be said through art,” Sandra said.

“My adult life has been spent ‘connecting the dots’ in terms of finding my family and reclaiming and reconnecting with my culture, heritage and country. I’ve been a professional artist for 27 years and the Stolen Generations experience has been the primary focus of my work – whether it’s painting, public art, community art or presenting artist workshops.

“As a member of the Stolen Generations I have a personal understanding and a deep sense of grief, loss and heartache that many of us who were removed have had to deal with. The loss of identity, family, community, kinship ties, culture and country has had a devastating effect on me and my family and those others who have been forced to share these collective experiences over our individual lifetimes.

“Since the 1970’s I’ve been researching the 1905 Aborigines Act of WA and what happened to thousands of children and families right across WA. It took me 27 years to find my mum and dad again. I’ve spent most of my life trying to ‘connect the dots’, trying to find my family, working at reclaiming and reconnecting with my culture, heritage and country.

“Creating something that will be more than just an art object is the most important aspect of my design, it needed to have a life of its own, some aspect that would allow our people to engage with it at different levels.

“It needed to be both respectful and cultural but most of all it needed to be imaginative. By using their imagination, people can look at the remnants of each of the individual ‘mias’ and hopefully, be able to visualise the whole of the mia by putting all the missing pieces together.

“I like to see this artwork as a reminder of the power of memory, imagining and visualising what was once there, knowing that even the smallest most fragmented memory can sometimes bring comfort and peace to a broken spirit.

“I hope with all my heart that our people, my people, will provide me with their support and allow me to be their voice and to trust me to tell their stories through this project. The story about the generations of shared loss, pain, heartache and grief so that I can create, for them, an artwork that they will be proud to call their own.

“I feel so honoured, humbled and excited that my Artist Concept was chosen by the City of Perth for this very important and historical project and I hope that our communities across the state will also embrace it and find a place for it in their hearts as well.”

Wellington Square: a significant site

Nick Abraham, Whatjuk Elder, explains that Wellington Square was always a place of importance to Noongar people.

“Even before ‘settlement’ it was a place for shelter, food, medicine, water, gatherings for ceremony and other resources,” he said.

“After settlement, many people, including Noongar and Aboriginal families, lived and worked nearby, and Wellington Square was a place for sharing of food, medicines, gathering for ceremony, sport and social events, and other activities.

“During these times, many of the Noongar and Aboriginal people throughout WA were forcibly removed from their family, country and culture, and placed into various missions and institutions – including many generations of my immediate family.

“Later, when our people were released from the missions and institutions, many would come to Wellington Square in search for family and/or a way home. Some made it back home, some stayed in search of new beginnings, and some got lost to the big city.

“Today, whether you come to commemorate Sorry Day or meet up with family and friends, gather for ceremony or sporting and social events, or just come to reflect on the memories and remember of those that are gone, Wellington Square still remains an important place for Noongar and Aboriginal people.”

This year’s Sorry Day event will be taking place on Tuesday 26 May from 10.00am, broadcast online. Click here for more info. 

Keep up-to-date with regular announcements by following Yokai on Facebook.

This article originally appeared in the May 2020 edition of ‘Yokai Yarning’. For more information or to sign up to the Yokai newsletter, visit yokai.com.au

Top image: Sorry Day at Wellington Square in 2017.

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