Fiona Clarke is an artist. She creates what doesn’t exist. She also re-creates what once did exist but was believed to be lost. Like her father, Henry ‘Banjo’ Clarke, an Aboriginal elder of the Kirrae Whurrong, she’s a storyteller. Her paintings tell stories.
In 1995, encouraged by Fiona’s older sisters, a group of Aboriginal and other Australians met in the Framlingham forest. We talked about the idea of creating a local Aboriginal cultural festival to reinvigorate cultural practice and to provide a forum for the arts and culture. Everyone thought it was a good idea – and the Tarerer Festival was born to honour old practices that had been witnessed by George Augustus Robinson in his travels through south-west Victoria in 1842.
These treasured resources helped with language and story restoration, and Fiona and I spent many hours talking about the language and the meaning of specific words. I loved the word ‘minkgill’ and the way it rhymed with ‘twinkle’ and could replace it in the song ‘Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star’.
Like her father, Fiona hasn’t forgotten the past. Her paintings are reminders of the sad and happy stories of that past. But she’s also determined to make a better future for Aboriginal and other Australians, for the children born and the children to come. This is a story for all to know and share: a simple story of finding your way back and finding your place.
I hope it brings joy to many Australian children and helps to keep alive ‘the happy laughter of the little children’, as Uncle Banjo used to say.
– Shane Howard