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Lowitja O'Donoghue and Robert Hannaford

'I'm going to wear everything red, black, and yellow'

Lowitja O'Donoghue discusses her life and portrait by Robert Hannaford.

Video: Lowitja O'Donoghue by Robert Hannaford (4 minutes and 5 seconds)

Lowitja O'Donoghue discusses her life and portrait by Robert Hannaford.

This video was produced with funds donated by Tim Fairfax AC.

Robert: I painted Lowitja in my Adelaide studio in West Hindmarsh, and that was a wonderful experience too because Lowitja is so down to Earth, such a lovely person.

Lowitja: It was a surprise to me to be asked to sat with. I'd never heard of Robert, but I quickly got to know him and respect him, and I knew that by the questioning and so on that he was really trying to find out more about me. He went on asking questions, of course, about where I came from, where I grew up, and the whole story of being from ... what is the term? I don't use the term very much, but the term of being from the stolen generation. I was removed as a child, a two-year-old girl, into a children's home up in the Flinders Ranges. That children's home was called Colebrook Home for Half-Caste Children. I didn't like it, of course, particularly when we were told we went in there that our culture was of the devil. Because I heard that too many times I became quite rebellious, because I was always asking the question about; who am I, where did I come from, who's my mother and who's my father, and where are they? Never got any answers to any of that at all.

Robert: When I was painting Lowitja, that was how she sat, that was the truth of what I was... and pictorially, and the expressions on her face. If Lowitja was sitting there smiling that would be a less interesting portrait by a long way.

Lowitja: I, myself, felt the portrait wasn't like me. The reason for that is because Robert had told me very early in the piece that I wasn't to smile. He doesn't like smiling portraits. Now, people who know me, of course, know that I do smile a lot, but I did choose the suit because it was a portrait I thought, "Well, I'm an Aboriginal woman, and I'm going to wear everything red, black, and yellow." It's a suit that wear on a regular basis when I receive the many awards that I received over the years. My family have no difficulty at all seeing me turn up in that same suit. I'd trained at the Royal Adelaide Hospital here, but I had to ... Mater wouldn't accept me for five years, and I was the first Aboriginal woman who was accepted to the Royal Adelaide Hospital. I think I'm more proud of having ... the fact that it took so long for me to be accepted in the first place. I was able to use my nursing experience to actually travel to remote areas and remembering that I was removed, I didn't know my people very well, and so on. This one way of getting to know them out on the lands, just doing what I could to heal people.