Tea, sugar and glad wrap
Here we are in Port Hedland, a town that would appear a stereotypical mining town full of high vis people in high vis cars, with high vis flags that always seem to be in reverse because the beeping never stops. A town where even the shopping trolley handles are stained the colour of iron ore.
But go underneath that superficial facade and there is a warm, friendly, happy and generous community. As was the community within Hedland Senior High School (HSHS) – our first venue on this walk together.
We installed the exhibition in the library in just under two hours, which is probably the same amount of time needed to install the mass produced, Glad Wrapped dongas we’ve seen peppered around the landscape - a direct response to the housing shortage up here.
There were many highlights from our two intensive days at HSHS, the Year 11 student brought up in England who wanted to dismiss the exhibition and the issues raised in it but after much inward thinking, discussion and a good look around at the portraits wrote ‘I have been brought up to view Aboriginal people as bad people, however, since moving to the Pilbara, I see they are much more than that.’
There was the young boy in one of the first sessions who was instructed, along with the rest of his class, to find a portrait he liked and draw it. After he circled this one particular portrait I spent several minutes with him to find out why he chose this face in amongst the other 34. ‘Is it her eyes that you are drawn to, or perhaps she looks proud or kind?’ I asked. A shrug of the shoulders and a dismissive ‘I dunno’ was the response. In desperation I said ‘well there must be something you like about this portrait, please tell me.’, ‘She’s my Nana’ he said. And with that simple statement the purpose of our long journey just became realised.
This was a common and expected connection for many students and at the end of each session, when asked, about 75% of kids knew someone in the exhibition. This was in stark contrast to the group of 60 students from Tasmania we showed through the exhibition during our testing week. Not one hand was raised when the question was asked ‘who can tell me where the Pilbara is’. Another highlight was the innovation demonstrated by the Port Hedland Primary School Students who were so eager to do some yandying to separate the tea and sugar they used their comment sheets and activity cards.
The biggest highlight though was in the last session on the last day. I was captivated by a bright young boy, David Clarke, who had many connections to the exhibition most notably through his Aunt Sylvia who is in the show. David was able to clearly articulate his own cultural experiences and opinions on many of the themes in the exhibition. We chatted for most of the session on his love of art and music (David’s an exceptionally good mandolin player), his family and language. I asked David if he spoke any Aboriginal languages. He quite confidently said ‘I don’t speak my Aboriginal language at all because I’m Catholic, but I’m proud to be an Aboriginal.’
The first two days clearly demonstrated just how relevant this exhibition is going to be up here and why the Museum of Australian Democracy is taking on this innovative tour. The next six weeks will be amazing I’m sure.