When Aunty Eileen Harrison and Aunty Rochelle Patten first met, their bond was instant. ‘I feel we are related in some way, more like sisters and we’re in the same age bracket. We connect in what we believe in,’ expresses Eileen. The women were introduced when they both joined the Yulendj group, a group comprised of 16 respected community members and Elders from across Victoria formed during the development of the First Peoples exhibition at Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre.
Eileen is a Kurnai Elder born on Lake Tyres Trust in Gippsland, while Rochelle is a Yorta Yorta and Wemba Wemba Elder from Mooroopna. Despite growing up in different parts of Victoria, Eileen and Rochelle find similarities that extend beyond art in Two Strong Sisters Connected, featuring more than 38 new and existing works that tell stories of each of the women’s lives, personal histories, and physical and spiritual connection with nature.
Growing up, Eileen learned about the stories of her people and country sitting ‘by a huge fire out in the dark, stars in the sky’. ‘There were stories about the Doolagahs and Narguns, Mrarts, all those myths and legends’, she reflects. ‘The trees and leaves, the water, the grass, all those little things. I see patterns and symbols in everything.’ Eileen left school at 14 years old, and returned to study when she was in her fifties, her detailed, traditional paintings earning her the NAIDOC Victorian Artist of the Year award in 2004. ‘I am proud of what I’ve achieved. I started painting when I went back to study, and it’s helped me to tell my story.’
Similarly, Rochelle reflects on treasured childhood memories deeply linked to the place she grew up. ‘I was born in Mooroopna and lived on the riverbanks there. My father, when he filled in a form, and it said place of abode, he put ‘riverbank, Mooroopna’. I’m really proud of that.’ She went on to study a Master of Applied Science at Deakin university when she was 50! ‘I did it about the Dungahla (Murray) River and where we lived and how my mother respected everything.’
Two Strong Sisters Connected celebrates the women’s childhood stories, as well as their powerful bond nurtured over the last eight years of friendship.
Two Strong Sisters Connected
Opens Saturday 22nd February
Bunjilaka Aboriginal Cultural Centre
Nicholson Street, Carlton