Weaving stories of connection

A yarn with Jules and Jayne Christian, mother and daughter from Wagga who trace their Aboriginal ancestry to the original inhabitants of Parramatta, the Burramattal people.

Weaving stories of connection to Country

Jules and Jayne Christian are a mother and daughter from Wagga, NSW.  They are also descendents of Peggy (Margaret) Reed, a Burramattagal girl admitted to the Parramatta Native Institute when she was a young girl in 1820. 

 

The STORYBOX team interviewed them about how they came to learn of their Aboriginal heritage, and their family connection to Parramatta. We first discovered their story through Jules' article Vessels of Love, published by Garland Magazine. It's worth a read! 

The Burramattagal people of Parramatta were quickly dispersed in the early years of the British colony.  In tracing their family line back to these people, Jules and Jayne have embraced the need to connect to Country as a way to pay respect to the trauma of those like Peggy, who was forced to leave her family and home, never to return again. 

 

For Jules and Jayne, the practice of weaving is one that connects them back to those who come before them. When they weave they weave stories of connection. Theirs has been a journey of enrichment through weaving, connection, storytelling and truth-telling.

Interview conducted at the Parramatta Artist Studios, August 2020, by Dr. Sarah Barns, ESEM Projects. Photography by Joseph Mayers. Commissioned by the City of Parramatta. 

Interview with Jules Christian

Tell us about how you came to discover your Aboriginal heritage?

 

I’ve been doing my family tree for 40 odd years. I traced my line to my ancestor Margaret Reid who was known as “Peggy” or Number 34 at the Parramatta Native Institute in 1820. She was taken from her family and ‘admitted’ into the institute she was eight years old.

 

We were looking back into my family history and working out where we come from. I remember going to a family reunion at Sharpe’s Creek, when I was in my 30s. People would come up to us and say: “Do you know you’re Aboriginal?’”. Everyone was mystified by this Aboriginal line. But when I spoke to my mother, she was a bit perplexed, because her mother never told her about how they were Aboriginal.

 

When I was growing up, we knew we had this Aboriginal line, but it wasn’t something we were meant to talk about. I asked my mother for her permission to go and search, and see where our line actually started from. As much as it ducked and weaved around, whenever I looked for something, I would find it. Things were just there, they would come into my hands or into conversation.

 

Everything, I believe, is mapped. Our future is mapped. It was my time to find out where we come from, to pass that information on to Jayne. I went to the local Wiradjuri community in Wagga, and dear Aunty Isabel Read, I had conversation with her, she’s Wiradjuri, she said check out Canberra, go there to find out more. So I did. I rang and got onto Ronald Briggs, now in Sydney. I had a conversation with him, and he was quite stunned and shocked in a way.

 

He said to me: ‘Give me the names in your line’. So I said ‘Peggy, Anne, Arthur, Eliza, Mary and me’. He said, can you repeat that again but go the other way? So I went up the line. And he stopped and he was silent and he said: ‘We never knew what happened to that little girl’. And that was my Nan.

 

How many people are part of the Burramattagal line in Wagga? 

 

Peggy married Johnathan Goldspink in 1832. He was a convict sent here for life. They went to Goulburn, then into the hills, they followed the explorers. Their descendants settled around Yass, Adelong, Tumbarumba. They didn’t travel like they do now, they just settled up around there.

 

Goldspink is a popular name today, there’s a lot who live up around Tumbarumba, they’ve been there for generations. Peggy had 13 children, they all had lots of children, that makes for a lot of decedents. There’s also cousins in WA. They’re people who identify as Burramattagal, all over the place, all over Sydney.

 

It’s been a wonderful journey for me. We always knew we were Aboriginal, but not where we fit in.

 

He [Ronald] gave me a lot of information, which I was thankful for. A lot of our information has been recorded, it’s kept in the museums and the libraries.

Jayne: Mum’s Nan’s brother, George Percy Perfect, he served as an Indigenous soldier. He was knocked back from serving, then he went just prior to conscription.

 

It’s interesting for me and my generation now to look back and see, how did people identify, how did the government identify people.

 

My Mum was born during the Assimilation Policy, my Nan was born during the White Australia policy, and its very interesting to see how that impacts on your freedom to identify. So Nan’s Mum, she kept her heritage quiet bearing in mind she had children to protect, but her brother, who had no dependents, he identified as an Indigenous soldier.

 

What do you do to connect to your cultural heritage and country today? 

 

Jules. With the disconnection to country, the weaving helps me. It just came to me…I’d just retired, I saw an advert about an exhibition, which was closing that day. I saw all this beautiful weaving, I had such a yearning to do it. I found a local weaving group called ‘Hands On Weavers’, they sat me down with Aunty Joyce Hampton, a master weaver.

 

I was so privileged to sit down and have a yarn with her, she’s a Ngiyampaa woman living in Wagga. Wagga was classed as a resettlement area, where people were resettled. I did a BA at CSU, then studied Indigenous Studies at Deakin, all after I retired. I learned so much, starting to talk more about my story. The weaving, I look at it as a connection to country. I value that connection, because for many years I was disconnected.

 

In my mind I’m always thinking: what would Peggy have done?

 

I remember my Nan, with tears in her eyes saying to me, you should do something with your life. I didn’t know the story behind what she had felt. She was born in 1891, Peggy died in 1898. So that creates a sense of disconnection that has been passed down among her children.

 

Jayne: Peggy was only eight when she was taken from her family. Peggy went from the institute into domestic service. She was God-fearing and when she was married she was somewhat respected in the white world, but that came as a cost to her.

 

So that’s been the colonisation, but now decolonisation, of our family line. 

 

Jules: That’s where the weaving brings it together. For me when I weave, I connect. It’s a connection you have. Anyone can weave. Anyone can knit. But this connection you have with the fibre, the different pieces you create, they create themselves, you’re just a vessel that allows it to be created. Each time you do your weaving, you’re weaving part of your story, part of your energy.

 

How have you learned this?

 

Through talking to mob, through talking with different Aunties.

Interview with Jayne Christian

The things I’m drawn to are things that I’ve felt were missing throughout my life. When I started weaving, I’d gone through uni, I’d done a bit of travel, and I was at home with mum, thinking how do I get a job?

 

Mum said come up to the Aunties and do some weaving, and I felt like I just needed to get a job, I thought I haven’t got time for that.

 

As it was, until I sat down and learned to muster some patience, nothing really fell into place for me.

 

So that’s how I started weaving. It was also during that time that I was involved in a Sister Speak program, going in to Temora public school, and having conversations with the Aboriginal girls, some of whom were in foster care and disconnected from their Aboriginal families.

 

Their families had told them stories, they knew what their totem was, so you knew where they were from based on that, so you’d help to reinforce that in them, you’d help them to join the dots. That was really worthwhile. For me going through school, I knew my family were Aboriginal but not that I was Darug, it would have meant a lot to know where I was from at that stage in my life.

 

The piece with the Emu feathers was really important to me. It wasn’t just about weaving with stitch, it was about the materials I collected, learning from Aunty Clare Bates, who’s a master weaver, she lives down in Wentworth where the Darling and Murray Rivers meet, she took me to collect the grass, and then I was boiling up sap fallen from the trees out there near Menindee, and I collected the emu feathers from a deceased Emu but I did so respectfully. So it was all these things, the person who you’re weaving with, the person who showed you where the grass is, the tree you got it from, I also included my own hair, it was really symbolic of all these connections and this time in my life. It all takes time. A lot of time. It’s up on my wall now, and it makes me smile because it reminds me of all those beautiful places out there.

 

So I went from thinking I was too good to weave, I didn’t have the patience to weave, to really getting the connections to weaving.

 

Earlier this year I was involved in weaving workshops with Jonathan Jones’ maraong manaouwi. Someone asked me, ‘should I use this colour?’. I said ‘why not, you’re already breaking the rules. It used to be that anything that fostered a connection between Aboriginal people and their mob was generally prohibited. Whether it was weaving, speaking language, cultural practices, family association. These were the things you weren’t allowed to do.’

 

This is the era of truth telling. We’re finally in a generation, in a world, in an age, when it can happen, but it needs to happen, so we can all keep moving forward. I didn’t expect the weaving to be a vehicle for this, but it certainly has been.

 

Truth telling takes place in so many forms. It’s important for other people trying to find their way, that we help. It’s not about money. It can be a struggle to make connections, to go up to an Aunty or Uncle and start talking. What we do is we sit and have conversations, we do one on ones, we do work with social media, for people who are lost. We try to facilitate these connections.

Interview conducted at the Parramatta Artist Studios, August 2020, by Dr. Sarah Barns, ESEM Projects. Photography by Joseph Mayers. Commissioned by the City of Parramatta. 

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