As I drive between the studio and the gallery this week I have been thinking about the genesis of the work I'm finalising and installing, and the challenging process I went through to get here. It has seemed especially difficult. I think this is because I felt a huge moral responsibility to pay tribute to a woman who was essentially failed by the social circumstances of her time. And also to recognise the nature of what was actually going on in the Surveyor's Office in 1859 when Mrs Larritt lived there as a new bride and mother.
The Victorian notion of the morally pure woman who stays at home and creates a place of respite for her husband assumes that the man lives long enough to support her. Mrs Larritt (Maggie) was widowed only eleven years after she was married and left with five young children. The social expectation of the 'Angel in the House' didn't help Maggie manage. She went on to become the Post Mistress at Footscray Post Office and later at Oakleigh Post Office and forged her own path.
I hope the work I have made is a fitting tribute to Maggie. She is heroic in my eyes. And yet history doesn't celebrate her. At the start of my research local historians told me I wouldn't find much about her. And I didn't. She wasn't considered important. People have asked me 'What did she do?'. And the truth is she did what many people do - she managed and cared for her family (and at times in difficult circumstances). As a carer for her family and then later as both carer and breadwinner, she persevered.
The other (broader and essential) huge challenge in this show is properly acknowledging that Richard Larritt's Surveying of Bendigo was a major part of the Colonisation of the area - and colonisation had horrific consequences for the local Dja Dja Wurrung people. I need to signal that Maggie's white fella world didn't appreciate the culture of the Dja Dja Wurrung. Hers was singular cultural view. The optimism of her early married life in the building we now call Dudley House was only one part of a much bigger multilayered and complex story. It was a single perspective.
I am grateful for the input of various local Indigenous people in the making and presenting of this work.
Image 'Single Point Perspective Murnong' 2018 Coloured pencil and graphite on Arches Satine 56 x 38 cm
Visual artist, drawing advocate, and mother of two red headed teenage boys.