Rejoicing in Country
Di Ussher is a Darug artist. She ‘doesn’t do boundaries …. I don’t want walls, I haven’t fitted into a box for a long time and I don’t intend getting back into one.’
She returned to the Blue Mountains eight years ago. ‘Being part of the community is a wonderful blessing,’ she said.
There are many special places up here in the mountains, she explains. Di was originally shown this billabong by a mutual friend who stumbled upon it while walking. After being invited to participate in this project, Di ‘waited to be shown’ a place to share with us and tell her history.
‘I said … on the telephone, I’ll wait to be shown …. In all things if you just give time you will be shown exactly the right time in exactly the right place … and that’s what I did and this is where I’m shown!’
‘There’s many special places up here in the mountains … but this one, praise God, was shown to me on Monday night …. When I’ve come down here in recent times it maintains that place of joy …. Anytime I have come down here people are having a wonderful time.’
She laughed: ‘Well the words want to come from my mouth, so I’ve got to let them …. This is the land the Lord gave us, this is the land that our Ancestors have walked upon and so we will rejoice. I do rejoice in this land! I do rejoice in this water! Because it’s absolutely glorious! Hallelujah!’
Di grew up on the North Coast at Lismore. Her family moved to Whian, just outside of Lismore when the local Whian Whian Public School put an advertisement in the paper needing a family with four or more kids to attend the local school in order to keep it open. Paying two dollars a week in rent for a little farmhouse, and fifty cents a week for milk, the family stayed for about four years and kept the school running before moving to Rooty Hill in Western Sydney.
Always finding her way back, walking in her ancestors’ footsteps, Di’s sister traced her family’s history, and confirmed their Aboriginal ancestry. Her family tree led back to the Parramatta Native Institute. On her mum’s side, Di’s Aboriginal ancestor is Margaret Reed, an Aboriginal resident of the Parramatta Native Institute. On her Dad’s side her ancestor is Margaret Shelley, founder of the Native Institute.
Di described this revelation of family and history as a perfect blending, ‘the jigsaw puzzle she already felt being whole’. Before Di found out about her Aboriginal ancestry, she worked with colour and dots in her artwork. Guided by her spirit however, she felt this style of painting wasn’t honorable because she thought she wasn’t Aboriginal. Instead, she worked through a creative process using tiny circles, which she describes as being very meditative.
Currently, Di’s artwork is directed by faith. A few years after arriving back in Katoomba, she produced an artwork called the Shield of Faith. At the time of painting, she didn’t realize it was part of a biblical scripture. Di explained the painting is about surrounding ourselves, that it [the shield] ‘surrounds us when we have faith, to protect us in every way, shape and form, spirit soul and body’.
Di was ‘given’ the shield to paint out of Country; it’s painted with ground down blood-wood timber, different ochres, and gum leaves. She laughed: ‘I don’t use my blender for a lot but I use my blender for all manner of things that other people probably wouldn’t think of, such as grinding down gum leaves.’
Her intention is to bring healing and blessings for all and to work with all sorts of mediums, therefore adding to the energy of the painting, its healing capacity and the faith it brings out.