Betty, Pat, Diane, Ivy, Lynette, Bonney, 2011

Artquest and Parramatta Artists’ Studios International Residency

Betty, Pat, Diane, Ivy, Lynette, Bonney started out as a research idea in the UK. I initiated a project entitled 21st Century Reporter at the Foundling Museum, London in 2005 (the year it reopened), working with looked after children to explore their life experiences in relation to the museum’s historical collection and photographic archive. This developed into a ‘sites of memory’ project in 2008 during the inaugural residency at Parramatta Artists’ Studios in Sydney. My initial plan was to research the archive at Burnside Museum – a small collection of artefacts documenting the history of Burnside village, an estate built to house orphaned children from 1911 and 1970.

As it turned out there were several historic buildings in the area which had once been children’s homes. This ‘find’ and my reading of Nobody’s Child by Kate Adie led to my attempt to connect the buildings to children, and I began a search for women who had lived in these places when they were young. There were three sites – Burnside, Lynwood Hall, and Parramatta Girls Home, and six women – Betty, Pat, Diane, Ivy, Lynette and Bonney.

I wanted to substantiate something of their experiences and, in some way, bring their past to their present in these locations. I arranged one walk with each woman in and around the building they had lived in to talk to them about what they remembered. My intention was not to make a documentary work but rather to produce something that demonstrated how place and memory can be significant mediators – allowing people to re/connect. So, I tried to listen more than talk. There were no recordings, only a few of my barely legible notes. When each woman left, I re-walked each walk, took photographs and collected objects that echoed their stories: trees, doorways, benches, washrooms, kitchens, spoons, locks, windows, twigs, leaves, seeds.

I produced a limited edition of six artist’s books, one for each walk. The books are heirlooms of sorts, attesting to the time I spent with Betty, Pat, Diane, Ivy, Lynette and Bonney, and re-presenting my recollections of their recollections. I sent Betty, Pat, Diane, Ivy, Lynette and Bonney their corresponding book through the mail from the UK three years after our meeting. Each of them has since described their book as a gift.