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My Mum was a really good cook, the only problem being that I didn’t like the sort of food she cooked. I spent a long time pushing potatoes, and cauliflower or – worst of all – fried egg and chips around my plate, hoping they would magically get less. When the plate eventually could be cleared away I was left looking at my tablemat. These tablemats – Christmas presents for my parents – showed landscapes of bizarre colours, strange animals, birds and trees. I knew it was Australia I was putting my plate on, and that was where half of my family lived, and I wondered if the food there, in the places shown in the painting, was different, and if there was a meal somewhere I liked.
Now I know those tablemats were paintings by Albert Namatjira*, the ‘most famous Aboriginal artist to work in the European style.’
250KM north of Alice Springs there’s a place called ‘Utopia’. The first white people to settle there in the 1920s were Germans, and they called it Utopia because of all the rabbits they could easily catch, ensuring their meat supply. The Aborigines had to leave their traditional lands. The men worked as cattle hands, the women in households, in return for food and clothing.
Many terrible things happened. I can’t write about that now.
In 1975 a fomer cattle station was bought by the Government and given back to the original inhabitants of the land – the Anmatyerre und Alyawarre. In 1981 full rights (‘Native Title’) to their land were restored to the Aborigines of this area, in part due to the efforts of artists.
Guess what, I didn’t know all this three weeks ago.
At Uncle David’s Birthday Party, his family gave him a painting by an artist from Utopia. Her name is Colleen Wallace Kngwarreye**, and her paintings “illustrate Dreamtime Sisters who are good spirits dancing the awelye (women’s ceremony) and looking after Colleen’s country.” You can see Uncle David and his 80th Birthday painting at the top of this page.
Guess what, a (small) painting by Colleen is, as we speak, speeding its way towards Morsum.
My Australian grandparents must have sent all those tablemats and tablecloths and Australian-wool-slipper-kits and Koalas in a desperate attempt to feel connected to us. Well, to me, for a long time their only grandchild.
After a while they got lots more grandchildren, my lovely cousins, with whom I now feel such a connection – across the miles as our grandmother would have said.
How strange to go to the other side of the world and land, plop, in a family where you feel right at home, in every way. It felt as if I had found the sisters I never had. And what’s more, they seemed to like us! And we loved the Food!
Especially at the moment it feels terribly important to stay connected, and not only to my family so far away. We have our own particular Dream Time at the moment, which is not benevolent or life-giving. It doesn’t feel like the start of anything, quite the opposite: normal life has been suspended and none of us has any idea what will happen next.
Some of you will remember our lesson a few years ago, with Gary Barlow travelling the Commonwealth, in Music. I guarantee this will make you feel better,
**Colleen Wallace Kngwarreye:
Cabin Fever English Activities:
‘Breaking news’ is a Website with activities (including listening at various levels and quizzes) around News items. Here’s one about dreams:
The British Council has a wonderful website, with enough material to keep us all busy for years of Corona.
Here’s an example at Intermediate Level using phrasal verbs.