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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.

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.