In 2013, I spent five months living in the former home of Judith Wright on Tamborine Mountain. Calanthe was the home she shared with philosopher, Jack McKinney and their daughter Meredith, and Tamborine Mountain is her final resting place. Calanthe gave me the time and the space to get to know Wright and I felt her presence everywhere, particularly in her beloved garden. As a teenager I studied her poetry and many years later, while working in the field of conservation in Western Australia, I learnt more about Wright, the conservationist and advocate for Aboriginal rights. Her poetry, her passion for the environment and her commitment to righting the wrongs facing Australia’s first people, resonated with me.
During my time at Calanthe, I discovered that the year 1915 played a significant part in her life. In 1915 the Anzacs landed at Gallipoli and Judith Wright was born. Her birth, in a time when the world was at war, influenced the way she viewed the environment around her.
There seems to be very little known about a quite remarkable woman, who was a visionary in many ways and achieved enormous success in her lifetime, without the fanfare that the media today would have embraced with vigour. Through the creation of a body of work that celebrates Wright’s life, I hope to bring her to the attention of new audiences and to re-kindle the affection of many who are already familiar with her.
“Reminiscence”, the title of this exhibition, references a poem by Wright of the same name and addresses themes of loss and memory. Through a series of drawings that pay homage to the environment, ever diminishing under the weight of political and corporate greed, I have focused on areas within Australia that are currently causing concern. Over fifty years ago Wright gave the environment a voice through her writing and in “Reminiscence” her voice is re-visited and amplified through my work.
I have chosen to use very fine pens, paper and hand-stitching to represent Wright and her work. The use of pen and the direct contact with my pen to paper is reminiscent of the way that Wright wrote her letters. So many of her daily letters were written by hand and in a world fuelled by screens and technology, the human touch is becoming less. The use of stitching is important in my work, as the themes are stitched together in a metaphoric sense and also in a tactile way, by piercing the paper surface. A tenuous connection occurs that has the ability to tear and thus destroy the very thing that has been created. There is an immediacy conveyed through direct contact with the fragile surface and the marks cannot be erased once they have been made. This also reflects the nature of invasive mining that scars the landscape irreversibly.
“Conscience of My Country” is the work that I feel represents the way Wright felt about our country, the landscape, and the scarring impact of mining on areas of great beauty. It tells a visual story with symbols and words that provide indicators of what is occurring at mine-sites around Australia. At a distance, the work appears to be a landscape, but it tells a quite different story, much in the same way that Wright told her stories through her poetry, about man’s impact on our environment and the lack of thought and care for the future generations of man.
I hope that I have succeeded in some small way in paying homage to Judith Wright, the inspiration for this body of work, in this centenary year of her birth.
Fiona Rafferty – (Spring Creek Station, Narrabri – October 2015)