Home Historical art Sydney Opera House, music festivals illuminated by the stories of the Ballarat Aboriginal family

Sydney Opera House, music festivals illuminated by the stories of the Ballarat Aboriginal family


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

Ms Gilson had asked her children to help keep her busy while she was ill, so her son Barry gave her a wooden train to paint for her grandchildren, while her daughter Deanne left her a blank canvas.

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

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 is screened at 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 continue to paint.”

Sharing stories from the goldfields

Art gave Ms Gilson a way to share stories from her culture, including those her grandmother told her as a child.

Ms Gilson is a descendant of King Billy, an indigenous tribal leader from the Ballarat area during the Eureka Stockade era, and his wife Queen Mary.

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

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

She said she aimed to create a new emphasis on the participation of indigenous peoples in significant historical events.

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

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

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

The Mrs. Gilson Jones Circus painting in Eureka tells the story of young men from Wadawurrung who were recruited to be circus performers.

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

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

To live in the countryside

Ms Gilson has lived in her home country of Gordon for 51 years and said she ‘won’t live anywhere else’.

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

“We had a mine shaft on the property and all the time Deanne used to go up there and get clay out of it and make pots – I always have one of his pots somewhere. away,” she said.

A native in makeup takes a selfie in front of an audience at a music festival
Barry Gilson made a country welcome and sang in language at A Day on the Green at Mount Duneed in 2021.(Provided: Barry Gilson)

Continuing the Legacy

Mrs. Gilson’s son, Barry James Gilson, uses the power of the spoken word to carry on the legacy of sharing his culture with the community.

He is known locally for his smoking ceremonies, storytelling events, and his powerful voice when singing in tongues.

He told stories at the National Celtic Festival in Portarlington last month and has taken part in numerous NAIDOC week events in the area.

“We need to educate the public about the stories of colonization and how we continue to survive,” he said.

Mr. Gilson will sing and tell stories again at the Meredith Music Festival this year and will perform at the Meadow Festival in Bambra, 20 minutes inside Lorne, in March, as well as A Day On The Green, Rainbow Serpent Festival and Golden Plains Music. Festival.

He said music festivals could be the future of sharing cultural stories.

A native in body paint at a music festival
Barry Gilson at the Rainbow Serpent Festival in 2016.(Provided: Erin Bond Matheson)

“There is a thirst for knowledge, people can’t get enough of it,” he said.

“Instead of having an MC all the time, why not have a traditional caretaker to talk about the history of the place?”

Mr Gilson said singing and speaking in his language in front of thousands of people at these festivals was “electrifying”.

“I feel good educating people on important issues,” he said.

“You reach a wider audience at once. I think that may be the future of auditory storytelling in this country.

“We have changed in leaps and bounds over the past decade in accepting our culture and being represented and not sidelined.

“The significance of it is now exactly where it should be.”

NAIDOC Week is celebrated nationwide from July 3-10.