Visit to Joe Skeen

On Tuesday we drove about 30 miles out of Brisbane with Mary Graham and John Denduck to visit Aboriginal arts and craftsman Joe Skeen. After being diverted through a field and around a lake (In Mary’s Mitsubishi) by a chap driving sheep, we arrived at Joe’s ranch style house. The sun was warm as we wandered through a brilliant array of sheds, containers, studio, dogs in cages, a tethered goat and various flotsam and jetsam to arrive at the house. Joe’s not a young man, maybe in his mid seventies. He was upright in a brightly coloured shirt and baseball cap and spoke with a relaxed manner of a man who has seen it all and possibly painted it all.

The most moving moment of our visit was Joe bringing out a large framed photograph of the mission in which he grew up. There he was in the second row along side maybe another fifty or sixty young faces all part of the stolen generation of young Aboriginal children separated from their families by the Australian government “for their own good” in an attempt to rid the land of Aboriginal culture. The legacy of this must hang heavily on the shoulders of the Australian administration but they still seem to be debating the position of the Aboriginal community within modern Australia. People like Joe who were torn from their families have been offered an apology in February 2008 by Kevin Rudd the former Prime Minister but have received no compensation for treatment of unimaginable inhumanity.

Despite this Joe has made a life for himself as an artist producing impressive paintings and as a craftsman producing boomerangs, clapsticks and didjuridos. We went in to one of Joe’s fields and threw a boomerang or two. They went into trees, around the field and over hedges… but I can report that it’s harder than you might think to make your boomerang come back!

The final surprise of the visit was being taken over to a tree to see a frilly necked lizard basking in the sunshine. It was invisible to us until Joe pointed it out. It looked like a creature that had inhabited this island-continent for thousands of years and as such it deserves our respect.