The Northam Yorgas are a Noongar womens' social craft group who meet weekly to craft, chat and lunch. In 2016. CAN ran a series of workshops (in partnership with Avivo) and a two-week studio intensive with the group, supporting them to create a range of hand-printed textile pieces inspired by nature and stories of the Wheatbelt that they could sell at their local markets . During the project, participants were also invited to create a craft piece that shared a personal or local story. These pieces were exhibited in an empty shop front window in the main street of Northam with their accompanying stories as the Kwobadak Maar (Beautiful Hands) exhibition over the following summer.
Frances Gillespie, Yorna (Bobtail), woven raffia and wool, 2016. Photo: Bo Wong
When I was a little girl, about eight years old, my Mum and Dad took us for a walk out into the bush in Long Forrest between Northam and Toodyay. It was me, my older sister Louise, second oldest sister Pula, younger sister Vilma, and brothers Trent and Glen.
Along the way I picked up a little bobtail. I carried it along until we decided to have lunch. We sat on the blanket to have damper, rabbit and tea for lunch. Then Dad saw I had the bobtail. My Dad told me, if it bites you it won’t let go. He said, make sure it doesn’t bite your fingers. So I was sitting down quietly with this bobtail in my hand. I decided that I would see what would happen. I put it on my dress and it grabbed onto my hem with its hard little gums. I tried to get it off before the others saw me, but my Dad saw it clinging with me pulling hard to get it off.
My Dad said, I told you so. He had to burn the tail with his match to get it off. Right on the tip of the tail. It let go then. Everyone laughed at me. They thought I was foolish. They were all afraid of the bobtails, but I wasn’t. I could pick up anything. - Frances Gillespie
BY THE NORTHAM YORGAS
Yvonne Kickett, Quandong Tree, woven raffia and wool, 2016. Photo: Bo Wong
When I was little, living on the Northam Reserve, my Aunty Ruth Hayden and her husband Dean used to take me out bush all the time.
They showed me what to look for and what to eat. Back then, we used to get rations but also collect bush tucker. We collected what we could, bringing the meat back to share. During that time, we picked a lot of quandongs, a tree bearing cherry-like fruit.
I started learning to make quandong jam from the age of fourteen. I still use the same recipe I made up then. I make either crunchy or smooth. It takes ages to take all the seeds out, sometimes I’m up to 1am. Then I wash them and freeze them so I can make jam whenever I want. When I got married, my husband liked going out to do bush stuff too. So I got out to do even more bush things. We started teaching our grandkids from when they were ten years old, even earlier for djilgis. We take the kids to catch turtles, find duck eggs, and pick the fruit from the quandongs. Now my favourite past time is picking the fruit with the grand kids and making jam to sell to family and friends. - Yvonne Kickett
Janet Kickett, Still Coming Home, embroidered cotton thread on linen, 2016. Photo: Bo Wong
Tears of sadness in the mothers’ eyes
Babies taken from their sides
Now there are tears of happiness and joy
In the faces of girls and boys
Placing us in missions and homes
Wasn’t right for children to be alone
Now that we are older and wiser too
Taken away as a little child
To a place we couldn’t hide
Tears of sadness we did cry
Nothing we ever did was right
Now we’re older and wiser too
Coming home was our greatest news
Smiles on our faces and tears of joy
Children said its better than toys
Little did we know that even today
Many of our children are being taken away
- Janet Kickett, 2014
Deborah Moody, Granny Ngweeyal, lino print and embroidered cotton thread on linen, 2016. Photo: Bo Wong
Norma Garlett, Collie River Marron, embroidered cotton thread on linen, 2016. Photo: Bo Wong
My sisters and my friends and I used to go down to the river at Roelands Mission. The first time we went, we saw these creepy black things crawling along the bottom of the river. We wouldn’t get in, we just stood there and watched them. The Missionaries’ son was in the orchid there, near the river. We waved down his truck and asked him if it was alright to swim ‘cause we were frightened to get in the water. He told us they were marrons, fresh water fish. We asked if we could eat them, and he said, yes, they are a delicacy.
After he left, one of the children said, who’s gonna get one? I said, I wanna get one. And I jumped in the water. But I made too much sound the first time and he took off under the log. One of the boys sang out to me, stand in the shadows sister, wait ‘til he come out. Don’t move. So I put my hand down at the back where he came out from and he darted out. I grabbed him by the tail and I flipped him and he fell onto one of the sister girls and she started screaming. It fell off her and onto the ground. She ran back up to the mission but she didn’t tell on us.
We stood there and watched it for a while. That was the first time I ever caught a marron. Then I let him go. We sat back down on the riverbank. I said, this river must be full of those, we can get away from the mission and come down here to escape and catch more.
They all started laughing and said, no they’ll be watching us. We can’t get anywhere.But I just kept daydreaming.
We walked back up the mission. I lingered behind ‘cause I wanted to go back to see if that marron was ok. But they wouldn’t let me go back alone ‘cause I was the smallest. We went down for swimming a lot after that. There was always one of the children on the hill on lookout, like those meerkats you see on TV, looking out for the rest of the pack. We caught marrons, mussels and turtles. But we always had to put things back ‘cause we couldn’t take them back to the Mission. Everything we needed to survive was all around us there. We could’ve eaten the bush food if we’d run away. The things were there but we couldn’t live that way. We could’ve lived off that river. I daydreamed about that. - Norma Garlett
Granny Ngweeyal was a great gran of mine. He lived in York with my grandmother and grandfather, a few streets away from where we were in my childhood. He had his mia-mia about 200 yards down the road and he came to the house for his meals. He was never a person that came into the house. He’d sit outside and have his meals.
He was well respected in the family because of his knowledge of language and the Noongar way. He knew his culture very well and he passed it on to all my uncles on the Yarran side of the family and my mother and aunty. They all learnt the language from him. Everyone called him Granny. Granny was really respected amongst the Wadjela community around York. He used to go around a chop wood for Wadjela ladies and make prop-sticks for their clotheslines. Cowan Road and Cowan bridge were named after him. - Deborah Moody
Elaine Dickie (née Ryder), Benedict’s Bike, lino print on plywood, 2016.
Photo: Bo Wong
My dad used to live on a farm called Masters’ Farm, halfway between Toodyay and Northam. As they told me, he used to ride his bike from Masters’ to Northam to the water supply where he worked, then home again. He used to fill his wheels with flour or a hose because the road was so hectic with rocks. He was known for riding his bike everywhere. - Elaine Dickie (nee Ryder)