Read Robert Adamson's introduction to Bush Mary.
Sundays have always been difficult. My Italian mother often screamed, and she often took me to church. The only Sundays I looked forward to then were spent with my beloved Australian nanna Kathleen Mary McCarthy. I would sit with Nanna McC – listening to her stories unwind – and watch her pickle onions and brew ginger beer for Sister Kate’s fête. I loved it there with her. She always cared for unloved and unwanted orphans, dogs and cats of the area. She would send me out to play with them and always insisted ‘make sure you come back’. I didn’t understand that I was playing with stolen children. I used to think Nanna McC was a kind of saint.
When young, I would see a recurring vision – with my eyes open or closed – of black men painted with white and whispering at me to come into the bush. I’d tell my best friend, ‘One day? I go live with them.’ I began to document the visions in paint. Nanna McC’s life has now played out in my art. I tell her story, focusing on our shared history: First Nations, first immigrants.
I had a boyfriend in 2010 even though I am gay. He raped me, bashed and smashed my back. I bent on a walking stick to the nearest church: Saint Mary’s in Erskineville, New South Wales. It was the day Mary Mackillop, patron saint of sexual abuse victims, was canonised. A few years prior, I had been living in Alice Springs. There, an Arrernte Elder, Mary Dixon, gave me acknowledgement and my skin name Napaltjarri 7 Sisters Dreaming. After mass that day, I started painting 7 Marys, a series that became self-portraits in colour, black, white and brindle, all in stages of sorrow.
A Kamilaroi woman saw those Mary paintings and spoke to me about a legend of colonial station men in far west desert regions. About how men would gather and could be overheard saying, ‘When are the Bush Marys coming?’
I knew Nanna McC was sent into service as a domestic slave, but it was not until that moment I understood that she was a Bush Mary.