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Learning to see differently

Discovering secrets untold with the Tobins 

Learning to see differently


Discovering family secrets

Val was in her fifties when she discovered her Aboriginal heritage. Mother to Chris, Leanne, Jacinta and Lisa Tobin, Val grew up in Parramatta, then a very different place to what we see today.


One of six children, Val's mother worked hard to send her children to Catholic schools. Her father was Irish, and her sister spent time in the Industrial School for Girls, where she was known as one of the ring leaders of a girls' riot. People didn't talk about their Aboriginal heritage at this time. Aboriginal children with fair skin were still being removed from their homes by the government. Val's mum needed to keep her Aboriginality a secret if she wanted to keep her kids. 


It wasn't until Val's kids were adults when they learned their family heritage. They learned more of their story, tracing their family line back to Maria Lock, who happened to be the first Aboriginal girl to be admitted into the Parramatta Native Institute. Maria was also the first Aboriginal woman to marry a white man at St. John's Cathedral in Parramatta. She was a smart girl, and from an important family. 

Maria Lock, they learned, was the daughter of Yarramundi, a Boorooberongal man from Richmond. Yarramundi was a tribal chief, whose meeting with Governor Arthur Phillip in 1791 had been documented by Watkin Tench. Maria's brother, Colbee, was the first Aboriginal person to be granted land in the colony. The Tobin's became grateful for the meticulous record keeping of the British, who documented everything, leaving these stories ready to be discovered by later generations.  


Today, Val's children continue to uncover new stories, and to connect with ways of living on country passed down from generation to generation.  They generously share what they learn with others, teaching about Country through arts, language, music and environmental practices .  


For STORYBOX Parramatta, Leanne Tobin was commissioned to create a new visual art work reflecting on her family connections to Parramatta. Her work, Stories Untold, reveals many layers of connection, from her personal family history to ancestral dreaming. 

Filming by ESEM Projects. Val's portrait by Shay Tobin. 


Stories Untold (video).  Leanne Tobin with ESEM Projects, 2020. 

Stories Untold.jpg

Stories Untold.  Leanne Tobin, 2020. 


STORIES UNTOLD tells many layers of stories about Parramatta's past, through the lens of Leanne's family ties, weaving photographic collage and images of the recent past, to symbols of gathering and connection among the Burramattagal people. 


Leanne Tobin is descended from the Boorooberongal (Richmond area) & Weymali (Prospect area) clans of the language group the Dharug, the traditional Aboriginal people of Great Western Sydney. She is committed through her work in visual and performing arts to conveying the stories and intrinsic connections the original people have had and continue to have with the land; that which is often today hidden beneath concrete and tar.

Commissioned by the City of Parramatta for STORYBOX Parramatta. Read an interview with Leanne Tobin about Stories Untold

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