Thus far. And no further.
Since early 2021, I have been undertaking a self-funded residency at St John’s Park in New Town, in an attic room that was part of the Queen’s Orphan School in the 1840s. Although it was and is known as the ‘orphan school’, very few of the children here were orphans – they were stolen Aboriginal children and the children of convicts. And it was not really a school, it was more like a labour camp.
The building sits on Aboriginal land, land that was invaded and stolen. I acknowledge the muwinina people who lived on and cared for this country for millenia, and today’s Aboriginal people and families, palawa and pakana, the continuing custodians; and I pay my respects to elders across time.
My own family connection to lutruwita/Tasmania begins here, with a forbear James Dickinson who was appointed second master of the boy’s school in 1839, and his wife Jane Dickinson who became matron of the infant boy’s school. They lived and worked on the site for ten years with their growing family.
Two of the Dickinson children died here – 350 children died here in 50 years. All of the bodies are still in the ground in unmarked graves.
The story is heartbreaking – it’s a site that broke hearts. Which of the stories are mine to tell, and who am I telling them to? Maybe telling is the wrong word – I’m trying to listen, I’m trying to learn when to be silent. Maybe story is the wrong word, I’m working with faultlines (fact/fiction, ownership, migration/acclimatisation…). I’m waiting for moments when things coalesce.
Through animation, drawing and writing, I’m looking for ways to explore and embody this terrain – the terrain between myself and the site, me and my forbears, Hobart now and in the 1840s. It’s muddy, painful, magnetic. I’m privileged to be able to spend time here, and I’m grateful to Kickstart Arts who have restored these buildings as artist studios.
If you have a connection to this site, or an interest in this project, feel free to get in touch.
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