I recently entered one of my beaded embroidery statement collars into an exhibition here in my home state of Victoria. I decided to give exhibiting a go, rather than having my work sitting on a model’s bust in my work room. My “bead embroidery” room is the centre of my universe these days and a favourite room of both Teddy and Priscilla who love to splay out and enjoy the ambience of sharing a place with another pack member. Much to my surprise, my entry into the exhibition garnered a prize.
A minor prize in official terms but a major prize in my own reality of my ancestral acknowledgement. I learned to sew at the age of four by my mother’s side. My first attempts at sewing centered on making little dollies which were a real passion of mine, along with drawing on pieces of butcher paper that mum used to save from the outside wrapping of purchases she made at the old style butcher shop. One of my biggest anticipations as a child was to sit up at the kitchen table on the red chair, anxiously waiting for mum to unwrap the meat, hoping that there would be some butcher paper on which to draw. A box of pencils would descend from the heavens and I would be silent for the next hour or so, totally mesmerized by colour and my well known fixation on drawing a First Nation chief. The design would not deviate at all, much to the enjoyment of my uncle and other family friends who would visit.
Butcher paper ….. I can recall the scent of raw meat to this very day from the butcher shop and using butcher paper recently to effect our move from South Australia to Victoria brought back a whole array of memories. As soon as mum pushed open the butcher shop door in east Geelong with its bell jingling away and lifted the front of the pusher over the doorstep, I could smell all manner of things, including some home made sausages that would be strung up in a decorative advertorial festoon in the shop window. Mum would lift me out of the pusher and sit me in front of her on the bag rest whilst she placed her order.
All the floors were covered with sawdust in those days and the sawdust around the huge and heavy butcher’s block where the butchers would carve up meats often had red markings from blood spatters. The butcher’s apprentice would spin like a top at the shouts from the various butchers to bring out this piece of meat and that. A great carcass that would nearly crush the apprentice would be slammed onto the butcher’s block and the butcher attending to mum’s order would carve away. All the butchers wore blue and white striped aprons back then and they all were hearty and beefy men (pardon my pun). Jolly men who would chuckle me under my chin with thick fingers as they laughed away. Generous men who would slice off some ham and present it to me for my consideration and delectation; laughing away as they did this, obviously waiting for the brutally honest gustatorial approval that children give if they like something. When mum bought a plump chicken, I already knew that we would have brodo (chicken broth) to eat that night. Brodo was a staple food where my parents came from and I continue to make this family recipe to this very day.
I am increasingly fascinated by my growing awareness of the circularity of ancestral activities. I come from a long line of good cooks and needlewomen. Without realising it, I have slowly evolved into a passionate needlewoman myself and my cooking centres on replicating the foods of my childhood; foods that come from another country and time. Recipes that have been passed through the generations. Through the needle and the chopping block, my acknowledgement of my ancestors is complete.
We are the sum total of all our ancestors. Thank you.