The Gabori Sisters: Gathering by the Sea is an interactive exhibition that explores the close relationship of Dorothy, Elsie and Amanda Gabori — the daughters of Mirdidingkingathi Juwarnda Sally Gabori — with their ancestral homeland of Bentinck Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
Bring the family in to visit the Children’s Art Centre at GOMA during the school holidays and interact with Sally Gabori’s world.
Visit Bentinck Island, Sally Gabori’s world
EXPLORE THE INTERACTIVE
Bentinck Island is not an idyllic tropical island. Its scrub and saltpans have made it a challenging and at times inhospitable place to live. The Kaiadilt people who lived there were almost entirely reliant on the ocean for food, with rock wall fish traps enabling them to collect fish and other sea creatures at low tide.
In the late 1940s, however, after a prolonged drought was followed by a tropical cyclone and storm surge that engulfed most of the island and polluted its freshwater sites, the Kaiadilt were forced to move to nearby Mornington Island. They return to Bentinck Island as often as possible but there is insufficient infrastructure to support permanent residence there. Sisters Dorothy, Elsie and Amanda Gabori recently shared with us some memories about their homeland and their mother.
Laura Mudge | Your work is inspired by your ancestral homeland of Bentinck Island. Could you tell us where it is and what it is like there?
Amanda Gabori | Bentinck Island is in the Gulf of Carpentaria. My mum’s country is Mirdidingki where the big river is. Mum’s mother is from Albinia Island, just across from Bentinck. Dad’s [Dibirdibi Pat Gabori] country is Kabararrji where Nyinyilki is, the fresh waterhole.
Elsie Gabori | Mirdidingki is a place with lots of mudshells and hunting ground for plenty of feed. The big river is hugged by mangroves. This is where Mum was born. Nyinyilki is called Mainbase now . . .
Amanda Gabori | Nyinyilki is a lovely place. It overlooks Sweers Island.
Laura Mudge | What special places on Bentinck Island do you remember?
Amanda Gabori | We have fond memories of Mainbase as the young ones would return there during school holidays. We’d camp and take them hunting and the old ladies would take them to sacred story places, teaching them what they must do so they won’t get sick.
Elsie Gabori | Mainbase, it’s a home for everyone. Mum loved that place. Mum was always gathering food with her nieces and daughters . . . and nephews.
Dorothy Gabori | I usually paint Mum’s country, too, it’s beautiful there. I remember being carried there as a child when we all got to return home. It’s a very special memory for me.
Laura Mudge | Can you share with us a special Kaiadilt story that has inspired your painting?
Amanda Gabori | My painting is the scale of Dibirdibi — red, orange and that bit of white. The colours represent him, that’s his colour. That’s my totem. The story of the rock cod [ancestor] is that it gave the strongest freshwater supply, this freshwater place is on the east side looking towards the mainland, at Sweers Island . . .
Dorothy Gabori | . . . That’s Dibirdibi Story Place, that’s also Dad’s country. His father, Harry, was born there. That’s how we got the Dibirdibi name and totem.
Elsie Gabori | Mum’s country has a story place called Mosquito Story Place. You are not supposed to go there, it’s thick with mosquitos . . .
Laura Mudge | Your mother is a very well-respected artist. Did she inspire you to start painting?
Amanda Gabori | Mum wanted me to start painting with her. I was really excited. That was many years ago. Now I feel very proud to follow Mum’s footsteps, feel strong. One day our children or grandchildren will follow our footsteps.
Elsie Gabori | I came up to the art centre and found Mum painting. I was encouraged to stay and start painting. I said to myself, I will stay here to be with my sister and Mum, which was good.
Dorothy Gabori | Yes, Mum was talking to me one day in the big orange house, ‘you come up here and paint with me’ and now I am still painting at the art centre!
Elsie Gabori | Mum is a special old lady.
Laura Mudge | ‘Gathering by the Sea’ is about the ocean surrounding your homeland. Why is it important for you to share this with visitors?
Amanda Gabori | Mum’s mob was taken away from their homeland. Mum only had her eldest son born there on the island, he was in her arms. The rest of her children were born here on Mornington Island. That’s why it’s so important for us to return to this country and share it with others.
Elsie Gabori | Everything we still know about country and culture became special because we were so far away from home for so long.
Dorothy Gabori | The stone fish trap is special to Bentinck Island. Not many cultures use them to hunt. Even when we mob return after many years, we can see the work the old people did. Still standing there, waiting for us. It grounds us to culture, family and country. The young people still use that hunting area even now.
Laura Mudge | What do you hope children will take away from their experience of ‘Gathering by the Sea’?
Amanda Gabori | We feel it’s important for our children to return to country and to learn about their culture. We hope the children at the exhibition will also taste what it feels to be like our children, taste the sea.
Elsie Gabori | Share what a little Aboriginal person might see and do in their sea country.
Dorothy Gabori | We try to share our culture with the kids, like how Mum strengthened our culture by teaching us to paint.
Laura Mudge | Can you explain the significance of the word ‘gathering’ in the title of this exhibition?
Elsie Gabori | Gathering food ends up keeping our family together and strong. Keeping culture strong, too, as the tradition and stories get passed on to the young people. I feel safe when I have my family around me.
Amanda Gabori | Gathering families together. This is special for us because it makes us happy when we are sharing with our family.
Dorothy Gabori | Coming together to spend time with each other. Because we are surrounded by the sea. The times we gather in our country are when we feel strongest.
Laura Mudge, Acting Senior Program Officer, Children’s Art Centre, spoke with Dorothy, Elsie and Amanda Gabori and Mornington Island Art Manager Grace Barnes via email.
‘The Gabori Sisters: Gathering by the Sea’ is the eighth interactive exhibition commissioned from Australian artists by the Gallery. Among other activities, children can use specially designed templates to make corals, shells, starfish (sea stars) and other sea creatures, including crabs, fish, seahorses, octopuses, turtles and prawns — just some of the many animals found in the Bentinck fish traps — and add them to a collaborative ‘rock wall’ display.
The Gabori Sisters: Gathering by the Sea
Until 12 February 2017 | Children’s Art Centre, GOMA | Free