Sydney Opera House, music festivals featuring stories of the Ballarat Indigenous family

Gordon’s wife and Wadawurrung eldest aunt Marlene Gilson began painting in her late 60’s and within a year she was an exhibiting artist.

Ms Gilson had asked her children to keep her occupied while she was unwell, so her son Barry gifted her a wooden train set to paint for her grandchildren, while her daughter Deanne left them with a blank canvas.

Later that year, in 2012, her paintings were exhibited alongside Deanne’s work at the Art Gallery of Ballarat.

Three years later, she won the People’s Choice Award at the 2015 Victorian Indigenous Art Awards for her large-scale painting Bunjil’s Final Resting Place, Race Meeting at Lal Lal Falls.

Ten years after her first brushstroke, Ms Gilson’s work will be projected onto the Sydney Opera House and shown in art galleries across the country.

“When Deanne first gave me the canvas, I said, ‘I don’t know how to paint on it,'” Ms. Gilson said.

“Now I just keep painting.”

Sharing stories from the goldfields

Art has given Ms Gilson the opportunity to tell stories from her culture, including those her grandmother told her as a child.

Ms. Gilson is a descendant of King Billy, an indigenous chief of the Ballarat region at the time of the Eureka Stockade, and his wife Queen Mary.

Marlene Gilson inspects her painting at the Art Gallery of New South Wales.(Includes: Gilson family)

Many of her paintings tell stories of the goldfields, including her painting of Mount Warrenheip and the Eureka Stockade which is in the Art Gallery of Ballarat.

She said she wanted a new focus on Aboriginal involvement in significant historical events.

Ms Gilson said she painted the Eureka Stockade – a rebellion by goldfield workers in 1854 against the cost of a miner’s license – from her grandmother’s stories.

“When the fighting broke out, some of the children and women ran into the Aboriginal camp,” she said.

“George Yuille (a white man) lived in the camp with one of the Aboriginal women, so it wasn’t scary for the children to run there and be with them.”

Mrs Gilson’s painting Jones Circus in Eureka tells the story of young Wadawurrung men who were recruited as circus performers.

“That would have been our people,” she said.

“I like this story, it’s one of my favorites.

life in the country

Ms Gilson has lived on her land in Gordon for 51 years and said she “wouldn’t live anywhere else”.

She said her children grew up painting, drawing, crafting and singing on the property and used art to tell cultural stories.

“We had a mine shaft on the property and Deanne would go there all the time, pulling clay off the site and making pots — I still have one of her pots somewhere,” she said.

An Indigenous man with face paint takes a selfie overlooking the audience at a music festival
Barry Gilson welcomed the country singing in speech at A Day on the Green at Mount Duneed in 2021.(Supplied: Barry Gilson)

Carry on the legacy

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