Painted in 2019, by Aboriginal artist Joanne Cassady, with direction from Eden Cassady, my daughter. I wanted to do a painting representing myself with my only daughter & share our story, little did I know this painting would then lead me onto a pathway, healing journey, and self discovery. I was in Sydney, staying with my sister Karen. I had just finished this painting and received an email regarding an exhibition coming up at Boomalli Aboriginal Arts Co-operative. I had recently joined the gallery and was excited for what lay ahead.
The exhibition was titled "Healing Ourselves, Healing Our Country", and I knew this painting was perfect as it represented healing journey for me with my daughter. I was fortunate enough to have the painting exhibited and rushed over to the opening night after working late on a mural. I was thrilled to be there because Hon Linda Burney, MP was officially opening the exhibition and I love catching up with her when I can, as we are family. My original painting sold that night and I was also commissioned to do another one for Linda. This was so exciting for me as I knew my art was beautiful and I was finally "getting it out there" so to speak.
While this piece was being exhibited it was picked up by NRMA to be displayed as a billboard on a highway on country. To say I was excited is an understatement!! It was contracted to be reproduced and displayed for 12 months on the Sturt Highway, Wagga Wagga, NSW, Wiradjuri Country. This was apart of NRMAs Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP Program).
The billboard went up and was announced October 2019. I happen to be in Sydney with my family for my 50th bday party. Sadly we had sorry business and wanted to go on country to spend time together. So we headed out to Bathurst NSW. Stayed overnight and decided to head out to see the billboard before we head back to Sydney. Unbeknown to me we were to travel on my mothers tracks.
My mum is Janet Ingram affectionately known as Isabel. My mother was placed in Cootamundra Domestic Training Home for Aboriginal Girls. My beautiful grandmother Louise Ingram OAM, had fought for many years to get my out and back home where she belonged. Mum went to live with Nan when she was around the age of 12. Mum grew up in Cowra, NSW, on Erambie Mission 32 Acres. Mum would go to Young and do cherry picking and loved sharing these stories with her children. Sadly mum passed in 2013.
As we started to head out to Wagga Wagga, (which I had never been to before) I realised we had to go through Cowra. My husband had never been there before or any of my children. We drove over the bridge that I, my mum and my grandmother all walked over the day it was officially opened, many years ago. We went up to the mission and were looking for Nan;s old house, only to realise it was no longer there, just an empty lot. We soon left as we were losing daylight.
As we travelled further west, we past a small town called Young, where my mum would have travelled as a young girl in her cherry picking days. The next town had me shaking and surprised. It was Cootamundra. It holds horrible memories for my mum, my nan and me. This was my first time ever going this far west or ever going to Coota. We drove straight to the training home and it still looked like some of the photo's I have seen. It had a driveway up a hill to the entrance of the building. No-one was there but we were able to park the car and walk around. So that is what we did. I went around the back and the side. I took a few photo's as well. I stopped. I took a deep breath and I thought about the Stolen Generation....When I went back to the front of the building, I stood at the wishing well where many Elders, some who have passed, would have been standing wishing, wondering where their families were, thinking, when was mum and dad going to come up that drive way and pick me up and save me from this place? It was so overwhelming. It was surreal. It was also my mother's pain. I felt it that day, but I only felt it for a moment, she felt it for a lifetime.
The sun was almost setting so we had to keep moving, because we still didn't know how far we had to go to see this billboard. We drove through Wagga Wagga and started to head towards Narrandera, NSW. All the while still on Wiradjuri country, my son was surprised how big this country, his country is. Alas we finally found it! We had to turn the car around and head back to Wagga Wagga as it was on the left side of the road. It was also not easy to get close to in order to get a photo. I jumped out and got a photo with myself and my daughter. As I stood there looking at it, I thought about mum and Nan. I thought about mum and Nan holding hands, Nan holding hands with her mum, then all the ancestors back in time getting their strength from their children. It gave me goosebumps.
Many months later discussing this painting, I decided to reproduce it as a printed canvas to sell. I wanted one framed to see how it would look first. So I placed my order. It was May 2020. My canvas had arrived and I was excited to open it and see, as I had never had my work printed onto canvas before. It looked fantastic and I loved it. I hung it up to take photo's so I could upload it to social and see if there was any interest.
I opened up Facebook and noticed the comments and peoples status on the Stolen Generation and Sorry Day. I realised my painting had arrived on my doorstep on Sorry Day! I again got goosebumps. I quickly shared my experience and story on video on my page, it was truly a healing journey and still is. I have only had 30 signed and printed as it was now 2020 and I had became a mother 30 years earlier.
Joanne Cassady, owner & manager of Balgarra Designs, self taught artist & loves sharing knowledge