(Dcsd. July 2004)
The following is transcript of recorded interview with Freda Wilson on 10th February 2002. The Gallery has very few of Freda’s works left however, she was a clever artist, wonderful lady and we feel her story is important.
P: Hi, Freda how are you?
P: Good O.K. what’s new? What you been doing?
F: oh, nothing.
P. Well, we’d better find out a bit about you for your story. Where were you born, love?
P. Ivanhoe Station? Yes and did you stay there for very long?
F. Yes I grew up there.
P. Did you work there?
P. What doing?
F. Working housework in the kitchen cookin’.
P. Who was Boss there?
F. When I was a little one it was Norman Bridge and his wife Thelma then they changed bosses when that house got burnt.
P. Right were you there when the house got burnt?
F. Yeah I was little kid.
P. And was it totally burnt nothing left?
F. Yes P. Freda, how did it happen?
F. Something went wrong in the house. P. But you were living outside the house.
F. Yep camping in Humpy. P. So no-one was hurt? F. No no-one hurt.
P. Then they rebuilt that station didn’t they?
F. Yes built new station.
P. Different place?
F. Yes la river now near the river.
P. And where did you go after Ivanhoe?
F. We stayed till we were big big people worked on new station.
P. And you liked working there they were good to you?
F. Yeah Yeah.
P. And when did you leave Ivanhoe?
F. When Kununurra started but went to Wyndham first.
P. Were you married then?
P. You still young girl?
F. Yeah couple of kids but not husband!
P. How many kids you got?
F. Six. They’re all big now. There’s Ethel (eldest), and Gina, JuJu, Annie, Peter and one other boy.
P. And your Mum painted?
F. She used to. Long ago. A hundred years ago!
P. So your Mum, Sheba her name is (F., yes), and you paint, and JuJu Paints, and Annie paints, and JuJu’s little girl paints. F. Yes. P. So that’s FOUR generations of painters.
F. Yes, that’s right.
P. All still painting now except Sheba.
F. Yes, she can’t see now (note Sheba is over 90 years).
P. Did you teach the kids to paint, or did they just learn?
F. They just learnt from watching me doing it.
P. Freda, you Boss for Emu Creek now? F. Yes. P. And you like it out there? F. Yes, Yes I been there for ten years.
P. What were you doing when you were up in Wyndham just sitting down?
F. I used to work at Six Mile Hotel.
P. Oh, that’s right for Sam and Maggie Lilly after they sold Bow River.
F. And for Geoff the next one.
P. And what were you doing at the Hotel?
F. Cleaning up in the kitchen (note Freda now smiling obviously fond memories).
P. And you like painting?
F. Yes, I do.
P. And you need painting to get you enough money.
F. Yes, and to make me forget about everything.
P. And you paint stories -
F. Yes -
P. And your Turtles I like those one Turtles. Freda laughs.
P. And you paint all different styles.
F. Yes, but all the same. (note Freda means all the same stories but in different styles.)
P. And you paint in the ochre?
F. Yes ochre – the rock.
P. And sometimes you use kartiya glue, and sometimes you use tree resin
F. yes, gum boil him up.
P. Then you mix him up and paint with brush.
P. But you can draw, too. F. Yup
P. I can see that in your paintings and this is what makes a really good painter like Jack Britten can draw, and young Susan Widaldjil can draw and that makes the difference Freda nods in agreement.
P. And JuJu can draw – hey, I’ve got some proper good didgeridoos from Juju - Freda laughs
P. Did you used to make them?
F. Yes, hard now tho too much rain.
P. Do you have to get certain sort of wood?
F. Yes cabbage gum because when you cut em they already hollow.
P. In old times, did the women make most of the didgeridoos?
F. Yeah, but men make them too.
P. Right men make spears, women make coolamons. Freda, did you go through law and collect bush tucker in coolamons and all that?
F. Yeah, that’s all we were livin’ on.
P. That’s what you were livin on when you were little girl.
F. Yeah no tea, sugar, nothing.
P. Till the station people gave you those.
F. Till Durack bin come.
P. So he gave you flour, tea, tobacco.
F. Yeah when people bin quieten down.
P. And did you get along well with the bosses on the stations were they O.K.
F. Yeah yeah.
P. And you were well looked after. Freda nods.
P. The stockmen and their families were well looked after. F. Yeah! P. How often did you used to get rations twice a week?
F. Saturday. We worked Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, then sitdown Saturday sometimes Sunday then work again.
P. On talking with Maggie Lilly about the times at Bow River, she tells me at Christmas time they used to put on big party for their people.
F. Used to tie their legs and run.
P. Oh, the three legged race. Freda now laughing. And they put their legs in bag and run. P. Yep the sack race that’s called. (Freda then described the Egg and Spoon race and other Australian games.)
P. And they put on a big feed for you.
F. Yep Christmas cake with five cent sixpences in it. Two big Christmas cakes and they used to kill a big fat sheep and a nanny goat.
P. Then after Wyndham you came to Kununurra.
F. Yes, after about four years.
P. Some people went from Wyndham to Turkey Creek but they were mainly Kitja people, weren’t they. You Mirrawong? Freda nods – yep. P. So the Kitja Peple went to Turkey Creek and the Mirrawong people to Kununurra?
F But they don’t know where to go now! They just go everywhere. Families used to go on holidays walk from Ivanhoe to Newry.
P. That’s a long way.
F. Yeah walk and camp till we get there.
P. Holiday time was Wet Season?
F. Yeah and some other year we might go Argyle then some year they might walk from Argyle to here. (note it was obvious Freda had something on her mind so Pam continued). Freda, do you see those people now do they come in with motor cars? F. They got motor cars now. P. Do they come in to see you at Emu Creek? F. Not much they are not the SAME people. They are not the same STYLE of people.
P. Yes, I know they don’t want to mix as much I notice the people come in from the Communities, do their shopping and business, and go home same day. Even five years ago they used to sit down longer here.
Freda – something made them change. (Note Freda was obviously sad that the old way of life had gone and with it the exchange of conversation and old camaraderie she once enjoyed. ) P. Oh, Freda things have changed now people have T.V. and all that sort of stuff. In the old days, all they had to do was talk-talk. F. (brightening up) Sit down and Sing!. Conversation then ensued about the corroborees, the singing and dancing and the giving of presents at Christmas time. Freda was happier but said she thought that would all eventually go away.
Freda went on to say her friends were now in Kununurra, on stations all over. Her Community, Emu Creek, is very close to Kununurra and Freda comes to town several times a week.
P. Freda, you get along really well with white guys, don’t you. F. Yeah no problems. P. Freda, you been painting long time now you sell plenty? Yeaaah! From Freda big mob all over Australia. P. Have you ever been down to capital city to do Art Show. F. shaking head Nothing.
P. Some people have, but it’s a long way isn’t it. F. Costs a lot of money. P. So you’d rather stay where you are and paint your country. F. Yeah, yes.
Conversation followed about different styles of painting, different stories, different languages but what Freda was saying is that although the styles, stories and languages are different, Aboriginal people paint the same themes.
NOTE Tape – Worth listening to this lady is very well spoken for the amount of education she could possibly have had
On drive back to Emu Creek, she went on to say how important she had thought it to educate her children. She also spoke of her father and what he had taught her in the bush as a little child especially in relation to bush medicines (she has obviously passed this on to her children) of the very very early days when the first settlers arrived of the good and bad in all people.