Memorial to the Survivors

Discussion of the work of Aboriginal artist Hope Neill

Hope Neill is an Aboriginal woman of the Gabi-Gabi clan with kinship ties through her mother to traditional lands in Queensland. Neill recently began painting and has put together her first major show titled Hope - A Continual Dreaming which was shown at Metro Arts in Brisbane in October and at the Long Gallery at the University of Wollongong in December 1993. Some of the pieces represent elements of the Dreaming and Aboriginal philosophy, but the most powerful works are those which deal with of what happened to Aboriginal people in the sixties on Aboriginal settlements such as Cherbourg in Queensland where she was brought up as a "dormitory child". They are an emotional revelation of painful, unpalatable and very recent history, which is still very much alive in the memories of thousands of Aboriginal people. Neill herself had two children taken away from her at Cherbourg, and has since managed to find one of them.

White Australia is finally acknowledging the injustice of the government policy of forcibly removing Aboriginal children from their parents to be brought up on missions and trained to work as domestic and farm servants, as well as the general displacement of Aboriginal people of all ages across the continent into "settlements" if they happened to be living in areas required for the pastoral industry. However, there have been few discussions or depictions in the visual arts of the aftermath of these practices

Neill recalls the last big shipment into Cherbourg. "They came by truck from Moree, Dunwich, Stradbroke Island and Cunnamulla during 1963. On arrival, the children were allocated to the boys' or gilrs' dormitories, while their mothers had to reside separately in the mothers' home. Later these women were placed as domestic workers on properties outside Cherbourg." Texts like these accompany each painting which are titled Last of the Round Up, Dormitories/Domestication, Rations, Permits, Assimilation, The Loss. and so on. Neill has developed a style which places the illustrative portions inside an irregular boundary line surrounded by patterning made up of animals or plants or the cross-hatching (rrark) of traditional painting. This division denotes the constriction of people inside an alien matrix filled with foreign objects - a cross, a permit paper, barred windows, a white official, the ubiquitous bucket and scrubbing brush, the church, the Bible, bags of flour etc while the world which they used to know is relegated to the realm of memory or the imagination. Neill's visual imagery indicates clearly that despite the fragmentation of the culture it did survive in this way, and despite the nightmarish look of the work with its stark tonal contrasts and ragged edges, and the insistent use of the hand symbol frantically trying to shut out the image of the government car at night with its monstrous headlights bearing down on the bush community, the outcome is essentially optimistic
The artist has donated the the proceeds of the sale of the work for the setting up of the Hope Dreaming Trust in Queensland with cultural, artistic and humanitarian goals.

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