Tuesday, May 28, 2024
HomeCultureArtIn Redfern exhibit, Elders explore the meaning of home

In Redfern exhibit, Elders explore the meaning of home

Nine studio portraits of Aboriginal Elders hang from the ceiling of Project 107, a converted garage space located in the heart of Redfern.

Their faces are captured in black and white by human rights photographer Belinda Mason.

On the other side of the gallery, their own words and photographs tell their stories.

Aunty Barbara’s words resonate deeply. “Finding home is like having my life back,” she writes in her account. She likens the transformative experience of finding a home to a metamorphosis from being lost in a forest to soaring as a bird. “I am flying,” she says.

Aunty Love, who spent her childhood between a convent and foster homes, reflected on the experience saying that “nothing was yours … there was a lot of sense of unease. There wasn’t a sense of belonging for me growing up.”

Now, her home is her anchor. “I’m very protective of my home and what comes into my home, she writes.”

“I was born here on Gadigal country just down from the road from where I live now. This is my ‘home’. I am an urban Aboriginal woman. My ‘homelands’ are in north-western NSW,” shares Aunty Jennifer, affirming the important, continuing connection Aboriginal people share with country.

The Elders are residents of social housing – provided by Bridge Housing Council, who sponsored the exhibit. There is an unavoidable irony in exploring Aboriginal people’s journeys to find a home despite being the original custodians of Australia, speaking to the profound displacement experienced by Aboriginal Australians.

Even within Redfern, a suburb whose Aboriginal community peaked in the 1960s with an estimated 35,000 residents, gentrification has meant in part that this once-strong Aboriginal presence has been forced to give way.

Despite these challenges, the Elders have emerged as pillars of strength and knowledge in their local communities. They impart their wisdom and highlight the importance of community, as well as Aboriginal Australians’ struggle – past and present – for belonging as the legacy of racist policies persists.

“[The exhibit] represents our deep respect for our Elders and their invaluable contributions to the community,” said Bridge Housing CEO Rebecca Pinkstone. “We learn from our tenants, and in particular our Aboriginal tenants give us feedback on how we deliver our services, on how we can do a better job.”

Ms Mason said, “The portraits were created by listening to their conversations and learning about their life and who they are and the words of wisdom that they gave, and that’s why the portraits appear as they do – because they’re all incredible people.”

Through the project, the Elders opened their homes and hearts, she adds, and this privilege is not lost on her: “It’s a very, very precious thing that they’ve given to me. I’m very honoured that I’m allowed within that space.

“You see inside of somebody’s life when you see the objects that are important to them and you learn more about them and who they are, demystifying stereotypes or any misinformation or lack of understanding.”

Indeed, as the stories of these Elders are explored, their yearning for a home resonates also with a universal desire for stable and secure housing, with nearly 60,000 on waiting lists and rents reaching all-time highs in NSW.

Ms Pinkstone believes the Commonwealth’s proposed housing initiatives will go some way to addressing these unmet needs, but she says that, “it’s really important that we get homes on the ground … we need that investment and an ongoing pipeline of homes for people”.

Bridge Housing Council’s Finding Home exhibit serves as a testament to the resilience and wisdom of Aboriginal Elders. It is on display at 107 Projects from June 28 to July 8 as part of NAIDOC Week 2023, and reflects the week’s theme “For Our Elders”.

 

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