50s Lifestyle

Oral history showcase to wow

WIRADJURI woman and Hurlstone Park resident Jennifer Newman is one of 12 Aboriginal men and women who have shared their stories as part of the Cooks River Aboriginal Oral History Exhibition which opens tomorrow.

The exhibition – showing at 107 Projects in Redfern from June 28 to July 8 – pairs natural soundscapes of the Cooks River with photographic portraits and oral histories of Aboriginal people with a lived experience and connection to the Cooks River.
Born and raised in Narromine, a little town on the banks of Wambool (Macquarie River), Newman says moving to the Cooks River was a revelation about the importance of a river to her identity and sense of fulfilment.
“It’s a difficult thing to articulate in words but I’ve got muddy toes from being in the river now and back through my generations,” she said.
“When I moved here … it really revived in me my belonging to a river. And so I have a daily engagement with the river somehow, even if it is just standing at the front fence and looking out over the water to see if there’s any pelicans.”
Through her mother’s McIntosh ancestral lines, Newman is an eighth generation granddaughter of the renowned James Squire, a First Fleet convict who became Australia’s first beer brewer.
Squire is also well-known for having buried Woollawarre Bennelong – a Wongal Aboriginal leader who established relationships with the First Fleet – in his orchard.
“When Bennelong died he was destined to be buried in a pauper’s unmarked grave, but James Squire stepped in and said this is a travesty,” Newman said.
“It’s quite amazing for me to be connected to that white fella who took such good care of that Aboriginal man and who acted so respectfully when he died to take him up and give him a proper burial.
“To be able to look in our family and see right back to 1788 where we have this respectful, genuine relationship between Aboriginal people and non-Aboriginal people, is a most amazing, precious thing.”
This is the third Aboriginal oral histories project undertaken by artist Asher Milgate who is inspired by Australia’s natural landscapes and the perspectives of these lands by traditional custodians.