Interview (cont.)Question:Butobviouslyyouhaveseenchangestakeplace,andwhatwouldyouput those down to?I’ve seen them change … I put it down to the fact that they’ve been there, they’ve had time to meditate with themselves, they’ve had time to look at themselves. And then they’ve had time to look at their fellow man around them and all of a sudden they realize that self isn’t important, fellow man is, environment is of top rate importance, and between the whole lot you can live in peace and harmony with each other and the environment.And this is all happening away from the hurly burly of the city?Right, all away from the hurly burly. But they’re also realistically healthy in their attitudes … i.e. one day I have to leave this place, I have to go back. And when that time comes, I say to them ‘you can always come back to Moongalba … go out into that society … if you see where it is wrong and it needs changing, well do your best to change. Don’t be surprised if you do not see change overnight, but try and change it. You can return here because Moongalba is a ‘sitting down place’, a resting place of tired people … people come and after they’ve had their rest then they can think again about things like that.And in effect recharge their batteries?And they can recharge the battery. That’s what Moongalba’s all about.Oodgeroo on the value of the arts to education, broadening people’s horizons and overcoming intoleranceReviewing your areas of involvement in the arts, there’s obviously been the poetry and the writing and the recognition you have achieved from that. But what has driven you all the way to your current love of drawing and painting?Well I’ve written the books … but my love is really the paintings. I was doing paintings at school … when I topped the class on my paintings and on English. But what happened when I was in the civil rights movement was that I could see the need for the written word … that was very important. The communication then was written, using the written word. And it broke my heart to see my people carrying around bibles under their wing - with no disrespect to the Bible - because the only book they had ever known about and ever been told about was the Bible. Nobody had ever bothered to introduce them to any other book. I remember one old man from Woodenbong Mission Station who whenever we had a conference to try and bring the Aboriginal people together, he would come in with the Bible under his wing and he’d get up there and he’d pipe that Bible backwards, forward, upside down, inside out … he knew it every inch of the way and in the middle of it all he’d get very excited and break off and he’d talk about the seven sisters and the Milky Way, Aboriginal style, and of course it all came into a whole blowup of his mind and you could see him trying to correlate it if you like and this man could not read nor write. After my first book, “We are going’ (1964) came out, the next conference I went to he walked in with that book under his arm and not the Bible, and this surprised me … and he was quoting Kath Walker. And I said, ‘Old man how can you quote me? You cannot read nor write. What you know what’s in that book?’ And he said, ‘Oh, that was easy’. He said, ‘As soon as I got a copy of your book’, and he said a white friend of mine gave it to me, he said ‘I went to all my white friends who could read and write and I made them read and read and read to me.’ And do you know they read to him so often, that he could recite my poems off better than I could myself. And from then on, without changing from the Bible, he had another book. And so this book gave him another aspect.And so what they are trying to do is broaden horizons. We’re not even trying to widen them for Aboriginals, we’re trying to broaden them for all people.What problems do you see Aboriginal culture or Aboriginal art forms as having had in reaching a white society in terms of such things as language difficulties. What types of barriers have existed, and do they remain or have they been broken down?The biggest barrier of all between all nations, all class, colour and creed people is – lack of communication, lack of tolerance, and lack of understanding … so education is the answer.So you obviously put a special emphasis on the role of the arts, or the cultural and artistic aspects of communicating to people. Why do you put this emphasis on it? What results do you think it can achieve that some other form of communication couldn’t?Well I’ve been in both forms … I was in the political scene and I suppose indirectly I’m still in the political scene but I’m not as vocal as I used to be … even as I was in that political scene for twenty solid years, and even as I knew there was a need for change in the political scene, I knew that the way ahead was through the culture because change comes not with politicians but through the arts. And I knew that should time permit I would hope that I would get on to doing some of my artwork so that this communication would bring about some change. One issue is that a lot of our young people on the fringe are top rate artists but because they want to please the white status quo they are painting Ned Kelly, Van Gogh, you name them. That’s what they’re doing because they want to please their white counterparts and what I’m trying to say to them is ‘don’t do this, bring out a new form of art, open another door’. The old stuff stands, the true traditional art is there, no one can ever change that or knock it or do anything about it … it is top rate, it’s stood the test of time. But now in the Twentieth Century there needs to be a new opening, another door to be opened and a new form of art for all those on the fringe, those in the urban situation. Do you think that Aboriginal art has now managed to get away from the context of being a subject for anthropological study or the like and has seen more of a genuine public appreciation develop – e.g. on an equal basis with any other art or artforms?Oh yes that’s going to change for the simple reason that the young people of today, especially the university students, the educated, and the enlightened young people are not listening to the anthropologists … they’re going to the blacks and saying ‘hey, what’s this all about’. They’re not taking … before, 20 years ago, you only listened to your anthropologists, your archeologists, you didn’t go to an Aboriginal to ask.[Read more ...]Page 2 of 41I 2 I 3I 4
"We are trying to broaden horizons for all people."
"The biggest barrier of all ... is lack of communication, tolerance and understanding ... so education is the answer."
"20 years ago, you only listened to your anthropologists, archeologists, you didn't go to an Aboriginal to ask."
"Don't be surprised if you don't see change overnight, but try to change it."
Legacy of a True National Treasure of Australia: Interview, Page 2