Black baby…white baby
Black baby…white baby

Julie Dowling

1969 - Black baby…white baby 2001
  • oil, acrylic and red ochre on canvas

This picture is of my grandmother Mary Dowling (nee Latham) holding my aunt Elizabeth alongside my aunt Barbara Dowling as a little girl. Based on a photo taken in 1957 in front of Supreme Court Gardens in Perth Western Australia. It shows my grandmother taking her youngest daughters to the State Registry Office on St George's Terrace to get her birth certified.

Being with her Wudjulah husband, my grandfather, she was allowed into the city with little trouble from the police. Police, shop owners and members of the public could demand citizenship papers and identification from indigenous people working and travelling throughout Perth and Victoria Park. Without a permit to do so, Aboriginal people could be sent to the town lock-up or to the protector of Aborigines, fined or imprisoned and then sent to Mogumbar, depending on the number of infringements onto Australian public domains.

My grandmother had no such permit because she was married to a white man and automatically became Australian.

When my grandmother and father arrived at the registry office, my grandfather was asked about the fact that aunt Barbara was so fair and the new baby was darker. He just said 'That's my black baby and that's my white baby...' innocently expecting no more trouble from the staff.

The registry office staff treated my grandmother horribly by making her stand with baby Liz outside of the doorway. They made jokes about whether or not my grandmother could speak the English language.

Because one baby was darker than the other, my grandmother overheard one individual say that she must have slept around on my grandfather by saying 'They always go back to their own kind...bit of the tar-brush for that picaninni...'.

This photo was taken by my grandfather with all the love and tenderness of a father. He loved them both no matter what colour the were. They were his little girls.

The portraits in the background are of some friends and relatives all making baby-faces out to the viewer.'

Julie Dowling, March 2001

Dowling notes that there are symbolic references to traditional Papunya Tula dots in this painting. The work is derived from 'a photograph overhead projected onto canvas'.

© Julie Dowling


You may also like

The Wesfarmers Collection of Australian Art acknowledges all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Traditional Custodians of Country and recognises their continuing connection to land, sea, culture and community. We pay our respects to Elders past and present.

Enter website