Original Artwork: Boy on the Hill
Oil on Canvas | 2017
Size: 152cm x 91cm
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Purchase your limited edition signed print of Boy on the Hill here.
Finalist: Black Swan Prize | Portraiture Salon des Refuses
About the painting
One of the darkest chapters of Australian history was the forced removal of Aboriginal children from their families. Children as young as babies were stolen from their families to be placed in girls and boys homes, foster families or missions. At the age of of 18 they were ‘released’ into white society, most scarred for life by their experiences.
These Aboriginal people are collectively referred to as the ‘Stolen Generations’ because several generations were affected.
Many Aboriginal people are still searching for their parents and siblings.
For Harry Bennett, the search for his mother would last 100 years.
In 2017 I travelled to Katherine, Northern Territory to meet Harry Bennett. At the time he was 100 years old, and the oldest living survivor of the Stolen Generations.
In spite of the tragedies of his childhood, Harry had gone on to live a full and joyous life and it was for this reason I believe he was surprised at the idea of someone wanting to paint him.
Over the course of 2 days we sat, talked, and reflected together; and as we did, Harry shared with me the secret to overcoming the trauma, suffering and injustice of one’s past and living with peace and longevity:
"Forgive your enemies, choose happiness and the path to reconciliation will unfold to you."
He spoke of forgiving the fear, ignorance and misunderstandings of others for he had learnt that forgiveness was a two-way street. By forgiving others not only does it free you from their power but it also gives the perpetrator the space and opportunity to learn and change.
Harry’s disposition created a struggle when deciding on a composition for my painting.
I kept thinking of the socio-political issues facing Aboriginal Australians today, the wrongfulness of their past dispossession, the ongoing repression and past degradation enshrined in Australian law, their current plight in terms of health, employment, education, incarceration, living conditions and self-esteem. Yet whilst all these issues revolved in my mind, I sat looking at a man who had endured the worst of them and yet was smiling back at me at the ripe old age of 100.
Now, Harry was not suggesting we ignore the plight of Aboriginal Australians, or anyone suffering injustice. Rather he wanted to share how the power of forgiveness gives one clarity and poise, and with these newfound abilities we can become infinitely more powerful in fighting our battles.
During my time with Harry, I was surrounded by his loving children and grandchildren. His love for them was evident in the love they continued to show him. At 100 years old he spoke candidly of how he would like to pass on.
Harry told me he wanted to return to where he last saw his mother as a boy.
A few months after our meeting, and shortly after the painting was finished, Harry passed away.
Upon hearing this news, I added to the painting a young, carefree, and forgiving - boy on the hill.
Rest in peace my friend, Harry Bennett
- ABC News: Stolen Generations' oldest living member, Harry Bennett, reflects on his life after 100 years.
- Real Life Super Heroes: 101 year old Aboriginal Australia, Harry Bennett.