Growing up in Weipa, on the Western Cape of Cape York Peninsula, remain some of the most wonderful years of my life—close to family and growing up with my siblings, cousins and friends with so much freedom. I consider myself enriched by this time and by the fact these years, those places and [most of] those people are still very much part of my life today. But, there were times when the freedoms I enjoyed, were not afforded to my Old People.
My Great-Grandmother, Amy Ling nee King, was stolen from Borroloola in the Gulf of Carpentaria and forcibly taken to Mapoon (which was a Mission at the time). She had a number of brothers; one went to ‘Mitchell River Mission’ (Kowanyama) and one to Aurukun (Grandad Denny Bowenda became the Chair of the community and a major Wik land rights proponent. It was he and Grandad Eric who gave me my tribal Name, which I share with Grandad Eric). She stayed in Mapoon and raised her children (of which only my Grandma, Jean Little OAM, and Grandad Alex Ling still live). However, her family back home were tenacious and we’ve heard stories of them faring the Gulf and visiting her at the Mapoon Mission, via traditional dug-out canoes. As historic Traditional Own-ers, there we have since grown up in and around Mapoon and call it home. We are now Teppa-thiggi and Tjungundji. But, we are always also Waanji.
My Grandmother, Jean, built her home down the road from the one in which she was born and which was razed by the Queensland Government—in an attempt to displace us for the sake of bauxite mining expansion—in 1963 under the direction of Pat Killoran and the Nicklin Government. The charred stumps are all that’s left and we now consider them sacred, as they remind us of our roots and our history there. Grandma named her home (a simple and lovely makeshift beach batch) ‘Waanji Away’ in honour of her Mother and her Old Peoples. To this day, we still haven’t re-ceived an official Parliamentary Apology from the Queensland Parliament.
This exhibition is about my reflections of growing up in and around Weipa, Nampranum and Ma-poon. It’s titled Waanji Away because I acknowledge I paint about areas which are not my direct Country, but which is that of my kin. My next exhibition (whenever that happens) will be about my return to Waanji Country, which I’m yet to personally tread.
This exhibition has been a long time coming and is perhaps the one which most exposes, even just a little bit of, my private, family life. I must acknowledge that the grounding I have and knowledge of my Family’s history, which we possess, is in a large part thanks to our tradition of Storytelling and to my late Grandfather’s, John Jans, work tracing our history—post Stolen Generation.
– Jack Wilkie-Jans