‘Life affirming’ donation

A piece of art with a unique story attached to it was donated to the Melbourne Jewish Holocaust Centre (JHC) this week.

Created by Aboriginal artist Stephen Harrison following a visit to the museum with the Galiamble Aboriginal Men’s Recovery Centre, the painting was gifted to JHC president Pauline Rockman in a ceremony on Monday.Harrison, a father of 14, told the gathering his inspiration came after he was taken to the museum by vice-president of the Child Survivors of the Holocaust Vivian Parry, also a volunteer at the Aboriginal centre. It was Harrison’s first-ever trip to a museum.

“The inspiration came because I have family. I saw the pain in all the pictures, the pain of the innocent people,” he said. “For the first time in my life, I can stand proudly before my family. I have done something special,” the recovering alcoholic added.

According to Parry, the donation was a “life-affirming act” for Harrison, who now plans to bring his wife and children to the centre.

“As he was handing the painting over, three Auschwitz survivors entered the room with a school group. These three guides began questioning Stephen for about 20 minutes, asking him of his connection to the Holocaust and inspiration for the work. “The students were also astounded,” Parry said.

The work shows outstretched arms with tattooed numbers displayed. All is surrounded by barbed wire, and prison bars with an Aboriginal man’s head and shoulders in the centre.

On either side of the cell bars are the artist’s feelings: “I can’t imagine how it must be to live without parents, brothers, sisters and family.”

Parry explained Harrison goes on to express his feelings about the Holocaust as seen through the eyes of an Aboriginal man who knows his own personal sadness.

The Galiamble community are direct descendants of both Aboriginal Holocaust activist William Cooper and the stolen generation.

Parry, who works as a volunteer at the Galiamble Aboriginal Men’s Recovery Centre, suggested the visit for the men to “experience the strong bond between the Jewish community and the Aboriginal people.”
Australian Jewish News, 2 May 2011 by Dahlia Sable.