Robyn Caughlan

My Mum Was Here

Robyn Caughlan is a fashion designer, textile artist, visual artist, and author of Waiting at the Gate (2012), a memoir about her life.

Robyn grew up with her Foster Parents, whom she calls Mum and Dad Reid. Originally she was told she was visiting them for a two-week holiday. Placed with the Reid family ‘for her own good’, Robyn eagerly waited at the front gate for her mum to return and take her home, but she never arrived.

Not quite knowing who she was, and experiencing a loss of identity since she was a young child, Robyn didn’t find out about her Aboriginal ancestry until she was thirty years old. She has since discovered her family has Darug and Darkinyung ancestry. Still learning about her culture, she is very proud of her family heritage.

Feeling very ‘disjointed’ she has lived (among other places) in the Blue Mountains and on the plains of Western Sydney, first in Lawson with her foster family, then in Blaxland and most recently she has made her home in Colyton.

Robyn explains: ‘Now I understand why I was put here. My real mum lived at Mount Druitt first, and then she lived down here at St Mary’s on a corner block … When my marriage broke up I connected with her again and my brothers and sisters. I used to love going there, but then there was sadness too … sometimes you just can’t go back … it was an important area because my mum was there.’

As a young person, Robyn was always interested in drawing and painting. When she moved to Lawson with her foster family, her dad freshly painted her bedroom. On the walls however, Robyn painted the people she most admired – President John F. Kennedy, Jackie Onassis, and Martin Luther King. Each time her artwork appeared on the wall, her Dad would paint over it. Gradually Robyn’s paintings became bigger and bigger. Defeated by the young passionate artist, her Dad left the artwork on her bedroom walls. It wasn’t until the late 1970s however, until Robyn began taking formal art lessons.

Robyn’s first big break was to paint a large wall mural at Everleigh Street in Redfern on a two storey building on a corner block. Feeling shy and unsure of her heritage, Robyn decided to paint the water. Because, she explained:

Robyn Caughlan

‘Water is peaceful, it had stingrays and three spirits …. Some people said they’re like the Top End, but I’ve been doing little things like that for years, it’s from my belief system too, and I think I have a right, they’re very different from the Top End. The Stingray comes into our life, they don’t stay long, but they’re just there to teach us and there was a turtle, so we have to use the wisdom of the turtle, they’re the wise ones, things progress slowly, and when that happens you have to be patient, so they’re there to teach us patience, and we have to honour other people, and of course we all slip up at times, no-one’s perfect.’

Next: Nikki Parsons-Gardiner