Last week was Reconciliation Week and I was lucky enough to hear about a fabulous fund raising dinner hosted by Nalderun, a local Indigenous support services organisation. Nalderun is a Dja Dja Wurrung word meaning 'altogether'.
Along with about thirty others I ate some very special indigenous foods including some of the plants I have been drawing for 'Mrs Larritt in Upsidedown Country'. It was a truly special evening thanks to the efforts of many. We were also treated to an auction of fabulous work made by local indigenous artists.
To spend my day drawing a bunya nut casing, then to eat a soup with bunya nut (and macadamia and berlotti beans) was simply fabulous. Other special flavours included Kangaroo, Emu, Murnong, Vanilla lilly tubers, Bulbine lilly, Quandong, native tomato, native fruits and more.
We are so incredibly fortunate to have the opportunity to learn about indigenous culture through food, and honour the sacred culture that has existed here on Dja Dja Wurrung Country for thousands of years.
Images, bunya nut reference and (below) detail of drawing with Ultra Marine Blue pencil and watercolour on Arches Satine.
It is getting cold in this part of Central Victoria - Dja Dja Wurrung Country. Winter is coming. When the weather turns cold and wet as it did today I often think for a moment about how the gold miners survived in their tents - all the extremes of weather they must have experienced. Maggie Larritt's story is not one of tent dwelling however. It seems she always had a proper structure to live in. Hers was a relatively comfortable world - although not when I consider it against my own everyday experience.
Today when I put on a long woollen skirt that falls to my mid calf I felt warmed by the weight of the fabric. But as I went about my day I realised why I don't wear the skirt very often. It dragged on the steps outside that were wet as I was carrying things in both hands and couldn't lift it. It dragged on the floor when I sat down. But my skirt is relatively easy compared to those in Maggie Larritt's era of early married life.
In late 1850's Colonial Australia women generally wore voluminous skirts. The ideal skirt shape was aided by a corseted waist and was almost bell shaped thanks to the 'cage' petticoat. The practicalities of managing those skirts would have been extraordinary compared to how we dress now. Today we have almost no threat of catching fire too close to the warmth, no need to lift skirts away from the mud on the streets, and much more I haven't thought of yet.
To the women of Maggie Larritt's time the massive skirt was as normal as making a cup of tea. To me it seems restrictive, annoying and uncomfortable.
The resilience of these women must have been quite impressive. Yet I've found little mention of the everyday difficulties in my researching of the era. The domestic realities. History records significant events yet what about an everyday woman?
And that leads me to ask what other elements of history are not visible?
My perspective is different to Maggie's as we exist across different times... And more importantly, there were so many more perspectives than the white men that wrote Colonial history.
The marriage took place at the home of Donald Campbell in early April 1858 near Marong, then a tiny Central Victorian town with some built structures and some canvas dwellings. I imagine the Autumnal weather would have been cool, but not yet cold and was perhaps timed to coincide with other goings on at the homestead. Sheep farming was most probably the dominate industry when the homestead was built, but now there was gold and changes must have been rapid. Maggie was 20 and her new husband Richard Larritt, the local Surveyor 35.
Donald Campbell's wife was Maggie's maternal aunt and it is almost certain she would have been the main organising force behind the wedding. Would there have been dress fabric from Scotland? Perhaps Maggie's mother sent fabric and lace? How did Maggie celebrate in this new country where she would build her home? How much did she feel the need to have physical items from Scotland to accompany her ideas of what it meant to be a bride? The dress would have been made by hand, as would everything for her trousseau. Was the white dress in vogue yet? Did Maggie do this sewing work or was there another dress maker? Perhaps Maggie and her Aunt were sewing for months beforehand? Although it is also likely that Maggie brought a lot of trousseau items with her from Scotland.
I haven't been able to work out exactly when Maggie Larritt (nee Ferguson) arrived in Australia, but she was born to Scottish parents in Ireland. Her father was in the Military and had died at the time she married. I am unsure if she was in Australia just prior to or a long time before her marriage.
Maggie and her Aunt needed to be practical and would be working as women did to ensure Maggie and Richard had a comfortable home. Thinking about Colonial Australia more generally, this women's role that ensured some comforts of home is to be celebrated. It is not something that was recorded in any formal way.
Meanwhile there was possibly also an indigenous woman working in the house, supporting the daily functions of these women who wore such large skirts. Would an indigenous maid have been paid for her labour? How would she have viewed the white fella rituals of marriage? I haven't found any record of this domestic help or of who worked for Maggie after the marriage when she lived at Dudley House. I can assume Maggie almost certainly had a maid and that maid could also have been indigenous.
The time of Maggie's marriage would have been one of great joy, yet as with all migrant stories there must have also been great homesickness. The details such as the question of who made Maggie's dress are lost to our modern interpretations of her story, but the certainty that she felt little connection to the local land is something I feel safe I can assume.
Save the Date, exhibition 'Mrs Larritt in Upsidedown Country' opening Saturday 17th November 2018 at Dudley House, View St Bendigo.
Still - in a way - nobody sees a flower - really - it is so small - we haven't time - and to see takes time, like to have a friend takes time.
American Modernist painter Georgia O'Keefe wrote about the importance of taking time to see. I have particularly enjoyed this quote as it reflects my own thinking about the time it takes to draw, and the value in taking that time.
Recently I have spent much time in the bush here in Central Victoria in search of indigenous flowers that have edible roots. They are all plants that flower in the Spring, and many have been nominated by the local Dja Dja Wurrung people as important to them. Most of the flowers are incredibly small. They take time to find and are easily overlooked by those of us not attuned to their importance and the bush generally.
I have been researching for an exhibition planned for November 2018 (part of the Regional Centre for Culture and supported by a grant from Creative Victoria) that explores the early history of the building that we now call Dudley House in Bendigo. This 1858 brick building is one of the oldest public buildings from Goldrush era Bendigo and was built as home and residence for Surveyor Richard Larritt - the man responsible for the layout of central Bendigo.
On learning about the history of the building I wondered who washed Mr Larritt's socks? If it was his residence there must have been a woman somewhere? Sure enough after a little research I found that Mrs Larritt did indeed live there too. All but forgotten and no doubt dismissed as not having any role Mrs Larritt is almost entirely absent from the history of Bendigo. Her story at Dudley House is one of optimism. As a new bride Maggie Larritt was establishing a home and also gave birth to the first of five children (a daughter) in June 1859. While there is much of her story I can never know (such as why the birth notice was listed twice two weeks apart) I am sure there would have been the usual shock and excitement that comes with a first child.
Yet Maggie's is also a migrant story. Sandhurst as it was then known, would have been muddy and rough. Maggie's transition to motherhood would have been tainted with sadness as her own mother was on the other side of the world. Dja Dja Wurrung land was not home - it's people who did understand the land and its rhythms were misunderstood by the new migrants.
From the vantage point of 2017 I wonder if Maggie enjoyed the local 'wild flowers'. Was she aware of them? They are so small. And it seems most of the new migrants didn't give the flowers time.
Drawing is an outrageously broad activity. In Western culture (and that is my 'mother tongue') we draw for many reasons - to aid in the design or construction process, to communicate an idea or tell a story, to map a terrain, poke fun, to share something from our imagination, to express something personal, to show how we expect something to look in the future or how it looked in the past, or purely for the sake of drawing. We draw before we write, and only some of us draw into old age.
Drawing is often thought of as an activity available only to a particular group 'talented' people. Yet drawing is an accessible medium that can be beneficial for pretty much everyone.
John Ruskin believed that drawing from Nature allowed us a connection that made us better people. The UK based Campaign for Drawing promotes 'drawing to learn rather than learning to draw' thanks to Ruskin's ideas. This philosophy helps the tentative drawer move past the idea of drawing as a holy activity only accessible to the minority. And drawing from Nature allows us a more contemplative approach to the world... a kind of meditation.
The very general skill of observational drawing is available to anyone who can see and respond with mark making. How much that skill is honed depends on the objectives (and the tenacity) of the individual. Practice, as in any discipline will make all the difference - so draw, and draw regularly.
One way to start is by finding contour lines that follow the shape of an object. Catch something with a line. Then move onto finding the major lines that run through an object - consider what the subject is doing, not only how it appears. And look, look and look some more. Careful rendering of tone will give your drawing the illusion of volume...
There are many approaches to observational drawing, yet the main ingredient is always the observation which allows us to see in a way that goes beyond everyday perception. And that is where you will find the joy.
Visual artist, drawing advocate, and mother of two red headed teenage boys.