Digital photograph depicting Aunty Jennine Armistead at the Willum Warrain Aboriginal Association in Hastings, Boon-Wurrung / Bunurong Country, on 25 February 2021. In the photograph Aunty Jennine is depicted burning etchings into possum skin as part of a Women's Group cultural activity.

Willum Warrain, which translates to "home by the sea" in the Boon Wurrung language by Westernport, is an Aboriginal Community-controlled organisation that provides a safe cultural space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people on the Mornington Peninsula. It officially opened in 2014, but had been in the works under various other names and operations since the late eighties. With over 450 Aboriginal members as at December 2020, it provides a range of programs for its Aboriginal community members, including a Women's group, a Men's group, a Deadly Kids group, a Bush Play group (for younger kids and toddlers) a Gardening group (open to non-Indigenous members as well) and a Welcome to Country ceremony for babies.

During COVID-19, Willum Warrain was forced to close its' gates and discontinue on-site activities, however the community remained connected via Zoom, phone and community activities such as the provision of food and medicine deliveries to Elders. At the time this photograph was taken in February 2021, community members were able to meet in person again after a period of extensive lockdowns, which for many participants was a welcome relief.

Aunty Jennine Armistead, a proud Yaran woman from the Padthaway region in South Australia, lived in Tennant Creek and Darwin before moving to Victoria later in life upon meeting and marrying her husband. In an oral history interview conducted in December 2020 she described feeling like a 'lost soul' until she discovered Willum Warrain: 'I'd been lost for a long time, not belonging anywhere, having been taken out of the desert and brought down here. And walking in through Willum Warrain gates, it was like, Thank god I'm home. I automatically had a sense of belonging.'

During COVID-19, Aunty Jennine was unable to visit Willum Warrain in person, but she remained connected to her culture and community in other ways. At the peak of lockdowns and stay-at-home restrictions, Aunty Jennine decided to give away plant cuttings, plants and weaved baskets to her neighbours and passers-by via a pink bookshelf that she placed on her front street. This simple act of kindness, for Aunty Jennine, was a way to lift community spirits and honour her own personal ancestry and story. 'In our culture, sharing is very important', she reflected in the interview: 'In the Indigenous culture, you share. And you must share.'

In a written diary entry written on Day 5 of COVID-19 lockdowns in August 2020, Aunty Jennine reflected on her experience of weaving baskets and giving them away to strangers:

'I pick up my fibres and strings and commence weaving to ease the pain of isolation and loneliness. Not being able to see my family, my friends and children, is heartbreaking. At least weaving allows my mind to wander and I become lost in the good memories or even the bad ones. As I weave I reflect on my life like I have never been able to do before. It's the unnatural silence that allows this opportunity.I gather up a dozen or so baskets and go out to my little pink stall where I have plants for people to take. I chat to them and look into their eyes. Some are sadder than others; they say they are almost at breaking point. I offer them a hug, a human touch, and I give them one of my baskets that I have especially made for them. Every stitch is a memory from my youth to old age, every stich is a memory of happiness or pain that makes up my life's story. May my ancestors spirits look kindly on all who see my humble work; may she look with pride on what my life has become.'

Physical Description

Born digital photograph, TIFF format.


This is one of a series photographs that were taken by curator Catherine Forge to document the story of Aunty Jennine Armistead and her wider connection to the Willum Warrain Aboriginal Association during COVID-19. These photographs are accompanied by an oral history interview and several items that were donated by Aunty Jennine Armistead including: 2 x handwoven baskets, a handwritten diary entry and a Willum Warrain 'Black and Deadly' T-Shirt. These were all collected with support from the Office for Suburban Development for the Museums in My Neighbourhood Project and digital exhibition, and now form part of Museums Victoria's Collecting the Curve: COVID-19 Pandemic Collection.

This collection of Willum Warrain items represent a wide range of COVID-19 related storylines including: daily life during lockdown, local neighbourhood connections, gardening, kindness and gift giving, and the emergence of new neighbourhood traditions. These items also symbolise and reflect a deeper story of First Peoples cultural knowledge and community connection, including storylines around truth telling, Stolen Generations, resilience, solidarity and intergenerational cultural exchange. These items will provide a lasting reminder of the community support activities of Willum Warrain members during COVID-19, as well as the importance of place, connection to Country and the vital role of First Peoples cultural knowledge and customs during the COVID-19 pandemic, and always.

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