I met up with one of my favourite people this week: Uncle Laddie Timbery. Uncle Laddie is a Dharawal and Uin Elder of the Bidjigal clan in the Eora Nation and considered the patriarch of Australia’s first family of Aboriginal Artists.
Based at the Jervis Bay Maritime Museum, he is a bit of a living treasure and loveable character. I met Laddie years ago and earlier this year he was kind enough to lend me some of his valuable artwork for a Judicial dinner I organise every year. That’s just how he rolls.
The Judge of honour was Magistrate Sue Duncombe who is presiding over the state’s first Koori court. I invited the elders attached the local children’s court Care Circle as special guests and Laddie’s nephew David played the didgeridoo. His welcome to country was the best I’ve seen (and I’ve seen a few). He incorporated smoking ceremony and language in song and educational welcome. Guests were mostly legal practitioners and they were deeply impressed.
When I was chatting to Laddie (listening really – it’s hard to get a word in) a teacher from a southern highlands school also visited and I listened to the discussion about plans for NAIDOC week. Laddie’s family includes traditional dancers, artists, teachers and musicians. The students will be learning about bush tucker, dreaming, boomerang painting and didge playing. It’s hard not to be impressed by the incredible generosity of Laddie and the Timbery family.
Their fee is nominal and I could only shake my head as he handed over arms full of boomerangs for the children as gifts. Despite the immeasurable value of their cultural work, it doesn’t pay enough to support them. That is shameful. Why do we not remunerate Aboriginal artists appropriately? Laddie tells me that government agencies expect them to perform official welcomes for free. I know how much conference speakers are paid and am stunned by the audacity of that.
Laddie was born “on the mission” at La Perouse in Sydney and came back to his mothers country at the age of 16. He carries the history of his people in his memory and has devoted his life to telling the story. He says that he is ‘the one only left’ who can.
The article focuses more on Laddie’s art but it is the man who impresses, he is at once both jovial and humble. His latest work called ‘whales’ will be on exhibition at the museum in a few weeks and he’s invited me back to see it. He describes it as a ‘mind blowing’ piece. Aboriginal art, is all about the story it tells and Laddie is the master.
But it’s his final piece that Laddie is now planning; the complete story of his ancestors. Pemulwuy, Laddie’s direct ancestor will be the focus and he plans to portray the whole untold Pemulway story, known only to him. I’ll be doing everything I can to help him obtain the grant he needs to make it happen because if ever there was a work of national significance, this will be it. If anyone can offer assistance, it would be greatly appreciated.
If you’re ever in the area, drop into the museum and say g’day. Some of his best work is on exhibition in the gallery and available for sale in the museum shop. You have to be flexible though. The sign on the door says:
‘Open most days about 9 or 10. Occasionally as early as 7 but some days as late as 12 or 1. We close about 5.30 or 6. Now and then about 4 or 5 but sometimes as late as 11 or 12.
Some days or afternoons we aren’t here at all, though lately I’ve been here just about all the time except when I’ve gone walkabout. But I should be around somewhere then too.’
The next article will be taking a look at the 2015 ‘Siteworks’ annual art, science and community event at Bundanon Trust.