Tonight my social media feed is carrying sad news of the death of John Doherty, artist, storyteller, smoker, Catholic and so much more.
I came to know John in my role as a community worker supporting people with disability and mental health issues to live with independence. John and I were the same age and shared a similar love of cinema, culture and religion.
We documented each other in the remarkable exchange of camera and paintbrush. On my bedroom wall I gaze with gratitude at a portrait John painted of me a few years ago. It captures my passion for Aboriginal politics with the colours that I wear around the brim of my hat.
Tonight as a tribute to John I publish for the first time an insight into my collection of portraits taken of John over the last ten or more years. This collection includes rare images of John in his home/studio where he playfully poses with the ciggie always close at hand.
Farewell John, I will miss our conversations about Audrey, Cary and those idols of the silver screen. I was always remember our last conversation in the hospital where you asked me for communion and a coffee.
Rest in peace from the struggles and the worry. May the Malboro Man and St Peter welcome you home and may the angels sing you gently as you join those heroes you brought to life on canvas.
Another NAIDIC Week across the country has provided opportunities for sharing culture, community and the political reality of First Nations peoples in Australia.
I spent much of the week taking advantage of the many local events to immerse myself in relationships and awareness of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Three moments stand out for me as highlights of the week:
On Monday of NAIDOC Week I attended the Brisbane Launch in City Hall. Later in the afternoon I dropped into a local city bar which is a favourite hangout. I was wearing my trademark hat with the Aboriginal colours around the brim. As I walked into the bar a women called out to me and admired the hat. She introduced herself as Jackie from the Torres Strait Islands and we chatted about some of the events scheduled for the week. Jackie insisted on a selfie with me in my hat and asking my name said she would tag me as “Uncle Tony Robertson” in her post. To be tagged and named as “Uncle” in such a way is an honour and a responsibility particularly as a white fella. This is the tag that some of the young Murris have also given me from our conversations and encounters on city streets.
The second moment happened on Friday of NAIDOC Week. I boarded a bus from my usual stop for the city and three young Murri boys sat a couple of seats in front of me. Again I was wearing my trademark hat with the Aboriginal colours which they noticed. After a few minutes one of the boys turned to me and asked where I got the hat. This was the beginning of a conversation that took us into the city over the next 25 minutes. We sat across two seats, a 66 year old white man and a young 18 year old holding the plastic bottle from which he inhaled as we spoke. It was a remarkable conversation about the reality of addiction, the alienation from culture and the families and people we knew in common. My phone camera with its collection of images of Aboriginal Elders is a great asset in these moments. The young man told me his name and proudly spoke of his tribal group for which he had a hand signal. He trusted me with. his personal details and I promised to look out for him if I was around the spaces he hangs out. We got off at the same stop but walked in different directions.
The other Aboriginal artist whose work is currently displayed in the Francis Rush Centre but not mentioned in the online resource is Fiona Foley. A panel of the Cathedral art collection is a brief clue to the series that are mounted in what is now a foyer space:
The story of these beautiful works and their mistreatment is recorded strangely enough in the documentation published by those who agitated for the works removal from their original installation inside the Cathedral of St Stephen. Since their removal the works have suffered from neglect and abuse in unprofessional storage.
Telling the story of Fiona Foley’s was an important part of acknowledging that the voice and truth themes of NAIDOC 2019 will take all of us into uncomfortable places on the journey to reconciliation.
My images and captures of my support for events during NAIDOC 2019 are available here.