Exhibition tracks stories of the Stolen Generations

You never know where a story might lead you. Historian and artist Dr Lorina Barker, speaker at the final session of the public Humanities Research Seminar Series in 2018, has spent four years developing an exhibition of works documenting and uncovering many stories of the Stolen Generations, Looking Through Windows, after pursuing a story of two forgotten girls. 

“The exhibition started as a story I heard about two aunties during the Stolen Generations near my community in Brewarrina. I didn’t know the story, and went in search of the two little girls taken. People remembered the little girls, but had not spoken about it for many years.”

Since uncovering that story in 2014, Lorina has conducted scores of interviews around the central and northwest of NSW, and invited Aboriginal people affected by the Stolen Generations to share and document their stories, memories and experiences in a traditional or new medium of their choice.

The resulting original collection of artwork, oral histories, language, music, film, photography, sculptures and theatre has been exhibited in Brewarrina, Armidale and Bourke over the past year. In her seminar, Lorina described the process of developing and recording the many stories as part of an artistic enterprise as well as a research project. Beyond the exhibition, these important stories are now documented and available in a variety of engaging and accessible formats for current and future generations.

The locations chosen for the exhibition have been an essential part of the project’s story, reflecting the journey of many Aboriginal people from their communities to government institutions. The exhibition will reach its final destination of Redfern in November, where many Aboriginal people were later settled. Lorina says it’s an important way of saying thank you to the Redfern community for accepting and looking after their family and community.

It’s a poignant end to a project that has not just been about recording the past, but has also facilitated an active process of healing for Aboriginal communities.   

“Elders have told me it has been amazing to come together again for a yarn, to reminisce, share stories, and express stories in different ways. I wouldn’t have been able to do all this without their support and having them tell us we’ve captured their stories in the right way,” Lorina says.

“I’ve been amazed by the strength, tenacity and courage of our Elders and the way they’ve embraced multimedia to tell their stories and ensure they’re available for the next generation. 

“If you chase a story, it can take you on a massive journey. This has been a journey of healing for us all.”

The public Humanities Research Seminar Series, coordinated by Karin Von Strokirch, will return each Friday of Trimester 1 and 2 in 2019, 9.30am–10.30am.

Dr Lorina Barker is an oral historian and filmmaker and teaches modern Australian history, oral history and local and community history. Lorina uses multimedia as part of her community art-based projects to transfer knowledge, history, stories and culture to the next generations in mediums that they use and are familiar with, such as film, short stories, poetry and music. She wrote and directed the short film documentary, Tibooburra: My Grandmother’s Country.

Image: Dr Lorina Barker, left, conducting interviews in Campbelltown for the exhibition.