Contrast of a harsh beauty

Marie Florence won the Aboriginal Art Prize at the Coraki Art Prize with a work titled Restriction = Loss of Freedom.

She explained to me that it was about the former Cubawee mission and her life there as a child.

I’ve spoken with a number of people who grew up at Cubawee and I’ve always found it hard to understand the obvious sense of fondness with which people who lived there speak of life on the mission. I haven’t been able to see past appalling living conditions and a horrible chapter in our local history where the liberty of people was restricted due to their skin colour.

Marie’s artwork (see story page 31) perfectly articulated what I, as a white woman who has never been discriminated against because of her skin colour, couldn’t really previously understand.

Being forced to live on a reserve did mean a loss of freedom, a loss of choice and a loss of country. But, as I understand it, the people who lived there also appreciated the bounty of the land and their families.

It was the seeming contradiction of beauty and restriction that came through Marie’s work that finally explained to me how those apparently conflicting views could co-exist.

It was, however, no surprise that Marie has her work hanging in the GunnaWannaBe gallery and cafe in South Lismore. Mick Roberts and Thelma James, who run GunnaWannaBe, are quite simply amazing.

Not only are they passionate about educating people about bush foods but they also support local artists.

And now Mick and Thelma are extending their hearts and minds to kids in the Territory, helping to bring a group of young people to the Northern Rivers. If you haven’t visited GunnaWannaBe, go and have a look and also make sure you taste some of the amazing food on offer. Education, art and food, what more could you want in one place?


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