Made in Australia II at CMAG a tribute to my complicated mother | Canberra Times

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Made in Australia II is part of a series of inkjet prints exhibited in My Heart-in-Hand Exhibition (2018), created as a tribute to my mother, Dorothy Jean Croft (born Stone), on the 80th anniversary of her Birth. Among many craft skills, Dorothy was also a gifted amateur photographer. Born into a working-class family living in Hurstville, Dorothy grew up in a very different Sydney from today’s crowded, property-occupied, ever-growing megalopolis. Dorothy left school in her mid-teens – as many of the young working class women of the time did – Dorothy undertook secretarial studies, dressmaking and milling at TAFE, and began working to contribute to the family home. Like so many of her peers in the post-war years, she was eager for adventure and left Sydney to look for work further afield. When the Snowy Mountains scheme officially started in 1949, it was the largest infrastructure project of its time and during its quarter of a century employed about 100,000 people from more than 30 countries. It was here that my mother met my father – Joseph Croft (1926-1996) in 1959: she is a young Anglo-Australian woman who has just turned 21; he a 33-year-old man with mixed heritage – First Nations (Gurindji / Malngin / Mudburra) -Chinese-Irish-Australian. Their attraction was instantaneous, evident in Kodachrome® saturated transparencies documenting their early courtship. She carefully and often jokingly noted the occasion and the motifs on the frames around these jewel-like images. Many friends pictured had “foreign” surnames: “New Australians” seeking refuge from homelands destroyed during World War II; others follow the opportunities for life and work offered by the Snowy Mountains scheme. What is evident in the pictures of my mother is her zest for life, which my father described years after the end of their marriage as “a light, a spark, she stood out”. The reverse of this “light”, this “spark”, appeared in unpredictable eruptions linked to events from childhood. Their relationship was often unstable, and so was my relationship with my mother throughout her life. Since her death, I have moved often – my mother’s belongings and the rest of my grandparents’ belongings move with me. Among my grandparents’ belongings were slides that my mother had sent home that documented her journey out into the world as the shiny, happy, sociable young woman she was at the time. She is revealed in laughter with family and friends, stylishly dressed in clothes and hats created by her own hand. She and her friends – similarly shiny, happy young people – smile and laugh in Kodachrome® glory; one can only wonder where they or their families are now. Documenting places was always important to my mother: at home in Hurstville before she traveled to Snowys; to catch her first plane; the place where she met my father in Snowys; views of and from landmarks in mid-20th century Canberra; glorious summer and fall colors at Yarrangobilly Caves; proudly introduced my father to her family, their loving welcome, glad she was happy after hard times; visiting him in Queensland after a break in their relationship; to travel to places of importance from his teenage years and early adulthood when he found his way as a supposed “orphan”; their commitment to her family’s backyard. Such optimism, so many happy expectations of what lies ahead, the punishing times that are not yet on the way. Complex, intense, loving, guarded, private, difficult and fun, Dorothy taught my brothers and I many things: Ask questions if we do not understand; always be honest; act with integrity; show love; and stand up for social justice. Although she and I could, and did, spend years without talking, I love and miss her every day.


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