Week 16- Negatives

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised that the following post contains names of people who have died.

I racked my brain to come up with something to write about for this weeks prompt. I didn’t have any actual negatives to take a look at so I couldn’t focus my attention on that. Then I thought about the negative things I have discovered about some of my early ancestors and although I’ve researched many of them extensively, I feel I need to learn more before I tell their stories.

So I thought about my own recent experiences and I remembered the negative attitude I had about one of the units I had to study for my Diploma in Family History. Although I thoroughly enjoyed most of the subjects, there was one that had me feeling less than positive.

Oral History- Although I loved the idea of interviewing an ancestor, the reality was I didn’t have any ancestors to interview. My parents and all my grandparents were long gone, and any elder relatives I had were in Canada. I thought about conducting an interview remotely but decided it wasn’t possible. Although I knew the interview did not have to be specifically about my own family, that was what I really wanted to focus on.

I thought about organising to interview someone in the local community, but with Covid at its peak, I decided to stay closer to home, so I decided to interview my husband. My husband’s experiences growing up in Australia were very different to mine, so I decided I would focus on that.

The unit I was less than enthusiastic about turned out to be one of the most interesting. The following is the shortened version of the essay I wrote based on the interview with my husband Richard.

A Serendipitous Discovery

I first noticed the paintings at my mother-in-law’s home when I came to Australia in the late 1980s. At that time, I didn’t take much notice of them, as I’d had little exposure to Australian art.

Photograph of watercolour painting, 2021, original held by Tracey Orchard, Brisbane, Queensland.
Photograph of watercolour painting, 2021, original held by Tracey Orchard, Brisbane, Queensland.

When my mother-in-law died in 2014, my husband inherited the paintings along with some other Indigenous artefacts that she had collected over the years. It was then that I discovered the importance of the paintings, but it wasn’t until my recent oral history interview with my husband Richard, that I became aware of their significance to the Orchard family history.

Richard, the eldest of three boys was born in Warwick, Queensland. He lived there until the late 1960s when his father, a trained baker decided a change of career was needed. Richard recalled his father becoming dissatisfied with his job, so he applied for a position as a labourer on a local construction site. After a while, he started working as a carpenter and spent some time building houses. An opportunity for employment in Darwin came up with the construction of the new airport so he applied for a position. The family packed up and started on what would be the beginning of a 10-year adventure. “The family actually bought a caravan and we towed it all the way to Darwin and lived in a caravan in Darwin while he worked on the airport construction site up there,” said Richard.

The family moved from one construction job to another. For the first 18 months they moved from place to place – Darwin, Cairns, Calliope, never spending more than six months in one location.

In 1971 following a short trip home to Warwick, the family set out once again. This time the destination was Hermannsburg Aboriginal community. Richard’s dad had applied for a position with the Australian Aboriginal Commission to build the new community centre at the Hermannsburg Aboriginal Mission in Central Australia, near Ayres Rock. His application was successful, “so we all piled in the caravan again and drove out to Hermannsburg”.

Hermannsburg Aboriginal Mission was established by Lutheran missionaries in 1877. Established as a school and dormitories for children, it remained under the control of the Lutheran Church until 1982 when the land was returned to the local Arrente people.

Hermannsburg Aboriginal community is also known as the home of Aboriginal painter Albert Namatjira. Albert Namatjira was the founder of what is known as The Hermannsburg School Art Movement. Encouraged by Albert Namatjira to take up painting, Benjamin Landara was one of the early artists of the Hermannsburg School Art Movement. He was also the husband of Albert Namatjira’s daughter, Maisie Namatjira. The two paintings pictured were painted by Benjamin Landara.

Between 1971 and 1974 Richard lived in the Northern Territory in the communities of Hermannsburg, Alice Springs, and Ayres Rock.

During their stay in Hermannsburg, the family immersed themselves in the lives and culture of the local Indigenous community. Richard recalled establishing relationships with some of the Aboriginal people that were there. “I remember one old gentleman in particular that I spent days with, and he was showing me just little things, things like animal tracks, understanding how some of the timbers worked and so on, much as they would teach their own children,” said Richard.

I asked Richard about the significance of the paintings and he recalled his time spent with Benjamin Landara. “I mentioned an elderly gentleman that I spent a lot of time with, who taught us lots of things- that was Benjamin Landara. We built a strong relationship with him; he was like a grandfather. He told us stories. Mum and dad also had a good relationship with him,” said Richard.

One of the paintings, the one with the gum trees on the one side was a gift to the family from Benjamin Landara. The other painting with a gum tree on each side was commissioned by Richard’s mother.

During the interview, Richard talked about a set of boomerangs carved by Benjamin Landara that are also part of the collection of items he inherited. There are two boomerangs in the set – one for hunting and one for fighting. He recalled time spent with Benjamin Landara where he was taught about the construction of the boomerangs. The boomerangs, stained with ochre “were roughly shaped. They were then soaked in water to soften the timber up and then the upper curved surface of the boomerang is carved in ridges with a kangaroo bone,” said Richard.

The time spent learning from and interacting with Benjamin Landara are treasured memories for Richard. The paintings and the stories attached to them will continue to be passed down to future generations of the Orchard family.


Art Gallery New South Wales, “Albert Namatjira”, https://www.artgallery.nsw.gov.au/education/exhibition-kits/hills-beyond-hermannsburg/albert-namatjira/, accessed March 10, 2021.

Aussi Towns, “Hermannsburg NT”, https://www.aussietowns.com.au/town/hermannburg-nt, accessed March 10, 2021.

CooeeArt, “Market”, https://www.cooeeart.com.au/marketplace/artists/profile/LandaraBenja/, accessed Mar 10, 2021.

Commissioned watercolour painting, photograph, 2021, original held by Tracey Orchard, Brisbane Australia.

Find & Connect, “Hermannsburg Mission (1877-1982)”, https://www.findandconnect.gov.au/guide/nt/YE00017, accessed March 10, 2021.

Orchard, Richard, oral history interview by Tracey Orchard, digital recording, Brisbane, Queensland, 27 Feb 2021, original held by author.

Registry of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Queensland.

The Hermannsburg School of Modern Art, “Albert Namatjira-Pioneer”, https://thehermannsburgschool.org/albert-namatjira-pioneer/, accessed March 10, 2021.

Watercolour painting, photograph, 2021, original held by Tracey Orchard, Brisbane Australia.

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