By Paul Dobbyn
BRISBANE Aboriginal Elder Aunty Melita Orcher has uncovered a priceless treasure from a photographic display of the Sisters of Mercy’s early history in Queensland.
She’s been able to view for the first time the only known image of her beloved daughter-in-law Lizzie Smith when she was a young girl.
The photograph shows a young Lizzie, her brother Chris and several other Aboriginal children at St Vincent’s Home, Nudgee, with Mercy Sister Colleen Geary.
The Aboriginal Elder told a gathering at the July 1 launch of the display at the Potter Building in Brisbane’s Mater Hospital, she heard about the photograph from her sister Aunty Estelle Sandow.
“I just had to get to see this photo of Lizzie,” she said, holding up a funeral booklet.
“She died several years back when she was only in her 30s from cancer.
“I will love Lizzie till the day I pass on and am going to tell other relatives to come and see the photo as well.”
The photograph was part of a display in the Kids in Mind Art Gallery at the Mater Hospital’s Potter Building.
The display is entitled “Your Story with our Story – Connections between the Brisbane Sisters of Mercy and Aboriginal People in Southern Queensland”, 1861-2011.
It’s one of several being staged around Brisbane for Black History Month which has also included several NAIDOC events.
Present at the Mater Hospital exhibition launch were members of Brisbane’s Sisters of Mercy congregation including leader Sr Catherine Reuter.
Others attending were members of Brisbane archdiocese’s Murri Ministry including co-ordinator Ravina Waldren and pastoral worker Josephite Sister Kay McPadden as well as workers from Mater Hospital’s Child and Youth Mental Health Service.
Aunty Melita’s profound experience brought to life Sr Reuter’s words at the exhibition launch.
“The meaning of the word ‘photograph’ is to write with light,” she said.
“Here we have a wonderful story that’s written in sepia, beautiful black-and-white and moving into colour.
“Written are wonderful, sacred moments caught.
“For the few images I’ve seen so far, it’s about relationships, children with children, sisters with women in different sites and places.
“These relationships are relationships that have sometimes been forgotten and should be remembered.
“They should be spoken about again, to ensure they can be nurtured in the present.”
The images, on loan from the Brisbane’s Mercy Heritage Centre, show the Sisters of Mercy and their ministry to Aboriginal children at various institutions from Brisbane to Cunnamulla and Woorabinda.
The exhibition was first mounted at the one-time Nudgee children’s dormitory in May 2011 as part of the Mercy Sisters’ celebrations of their 150th anniversary of their arrival in Brisbane.
Sisters Wendy Flannery and Katharine Courtney worked with curator of Aboriginal history Michael Aird to collect the photographs.
Nancy Bamaga, an indigenous worker with the Mater Hospital’s Child and Youth Mental Health Service, co-ordinated the latest showing of the exhibition.
She’s run exhibitions with an indigenous theme at the Potter Building since 2008 as part of NAIDOC Week.
“For example we held an exhibition with photographs and various documentation from the Federal Government’s 2008 Apology to the Stolen Generations,” Ms Bamaga said.
The latest exhibition is a particularly good fit given its celebration of the Sisters of Mercy’s involvement with Queensland’s indigenous communities and the congregation’s founding role in the Mater Hospital.
There’s an underlying sense of sadness with this exhibition, however.
The child and youth mental health unit will be moving to the new Lady Cilento Children’s Hospital before the end of the year.
“We’ll be losing this space and in some ways the memories associated with it,” the unit’s acting executive manager Amanda Tilse told the gathering.
“So having this exhibition in the Potter Building has come at a time when we can also take time to reflect on our role in the Mater – how our workers have contributed to Aboriginal mental health over the years.”
The “Your Story Our Story” exhibition will continue until the end of July.
For further information contact Nancy Bamaga on 0412 886 501 or the Mater Hospital’s Child and Youth Mental Health Service on (07) 3163 1640.