My Ironbark Residency 2023 is fast approaching. It is situated in Wiradjuri Country at the Railway Hotel in Stuart Town, previously known as Ironbarks. My plan is to be open to influence whilst contemplating some family stories linked to the Stuart Town surrounds. And I’ll take my regulars - some paints and canvas’, charcoal and paper.
This photo of four generations of women in my family - my older sister, my mum, my granny and my great grandmother is one that I’ve always loved. It was taken by my father. My great grandmother died in Lithgow a couple of years before I was born, not far from where I live now. Family stories of her and of the lives lived of my ancestors have always intrigued me. These three forebears of mine all became single mothers. Their stories, encompassing much grief along with tales of survival, are the backdrop to my life stories.
My only grandparent present during my childhood, my gorgeous granny (who as an aside loved very ripe bananas) is up the back on the left in this photo. She, Doris Newton was born at Pine Park in 1908 not far from Stuart Town. Doris' birthplace is under what is now Burrendong Dam. Life was precarious then. Eight of Doris' nine siblings died whilst just babes. They are buried under the Dam where my Granny's ashes were later returned. Granny told stories of the twin babies warmed by the fire and when she was just eight years old hitching up the horse to the sulky to drive her mum who was in labour to Wellington Hospital to give birth to her tenth sibling. It is thought that these devastating peri-natal deaths may have been the result of an Rh Factor incompatibility. Looking at this photo with my great grandmother Edith (Edie) nee Eden suspended in time, I feel a gut-wrenching sense of sorrow for her. The pit of her grief is unimaginable to me. Oral family stories are that wanting to endure no more loss, Edie left the valley with her two girls, Doris and her little sister Amy, leaving her husband, my great grandfather James (Jim) Newton.
Jim who was also born under the Dam, worked as a labourer at the Pine Park property. His birth in 1874 was during the gold mining rush at Burrendong reported in the Sydney Morning Herald to have commenced in January 1863. He would have been just 6 years old when The Railway Hotel was built and Ironbark Railway Station was opened (still in operation today as Stuart Town Railway Station). Thousands of people including diaspora from China flocked to the district over the next half century (with only hundreds remaining in Stuart Town today). His parents, my great great grandparents Maryanne Hickmott and Thomas Newton were married nearby in Wellington in 1866. I have read of records telling of members of the Newton and Hickmott families travelling to the region in 1863 through my mum Marilyn Mason’s genealogy research on her ancestors. There is convincing evidence that Thomas Newton’s parents, my great great great grandparents Thomas Newton of the Mary II (1822) and Barbara Laurie of the Buffalo (1833) were transported to Australia as convicts. Maryanne’s parents, also my great great great grandparents Sarah and James Hickmott came to Australia as assisted migrants on the Maitland (1838).
Through this one family lineage, I am a sixth generation Australian of convict and migrant ancestry from Britain. This is part of the story of how I am living and working in and now in an artist residency in Wiradjuri country. Wiradjuri peoples resisting invasion on their lands is well documented. My ancestors arrived in this region only forty years after the first Wiradjuri war of resistance (the Bathurst War 1822-24). This colonial heritage of mine abuts horrific truths of genocide, virus decimation, war, massacres and stolen generations of Wiradjuri peoples. Personal questions of how to live and work in Wiradjuri Country today with its continuity of Wiradjuri peoples and cultures are continual.
The Ironbark Arts Residency Program is co-produced by Orana Arts Inc and the Stuart Town Advancement Association (STAA). I am looking forward to the residency, to sharing with locals, to thinking and creating and also meeting the other residency recipient Therese Gabriel Wilkins who will be working on her own project at The Railway Hotel. Thankyou Orana Arts and the STAA.