Life in My Shoes: Parenting in Port Hedland, Western Australia
Bobbi Lockyer talks about capturing culture, women’s rights, becoming an artist and raising four boys.
Interview by Nicole Lutze
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I live in Port Hedland: a mining town and the largest port in Australia. I live with my four boys: Sebastian (13), Zenith (9), Lawrence (6) and August (4). We live right near the beach and can see all the big ships come in. It’s an old five-bedroom home, one of the original houses from when the town first started, but we love it. Inside it’s colourfully decorated, and because we’re at the beach all the time, it’s filled with shells and beach-inspired decor.
I feel connected to the ocean and spent lots of my childhood at the beach. We took our toys down there, played in rock pools, walked the reef, and watched turtles nesting. I feel like, even though rent is increasing, I couldn’t move. I want to stay near the beach. If I lived inland, I would go a bit crazy.
My mum has always been very creative and taught me how to draw, sew and paint. I’m the oldest of six kids, and we are all very creative as well, so it’s in our blood. I remember my Mum taking my younger sister and me to the textile traders in Bunbury to choose fabric for sewing blankets. I was also obsessed with textas as a kid, and she taught me how to do repeating patterns with them. I have many positive memories of learning from my Mum.
Growing up, I always had disposable cameras and took photos of my siblings. Heaps of those cameras never got developed because it was expensive. I’d dress my little sister up and hang a blanket on the door as a backdrop and take photos, but I didn’t know photography could be a career.
There was lots of pressure at school to figure out your career, and I just wanted to paint. One teacher said to me, “Do you just want to be an art teacher, or do you want to be a starving artist for the rest of your life?” There were definitely moments where I felt I couldn’t do what I wanted. But then I had one art teacher who opened up a whole new world to me. She got me into graphic design, and I fell in love with it. I could combine my art and painting, but make it digital and use photography. So I went on to study graphic design.
With my boys, my oldest two love painting and have won some awards. My eldest also loves modelling for my photos, probably because he was born with a camera in his face. We come up with ideas and get to be creative together. My second boy is most creative when it comes to food. He loves to cook, so we spend time together cooking, even though I hate cooking. He doesn’t like having his photo taken at all. My younger two boys are creative physically; they dance and love music and being silly.
Photography and culture.
I use photography to capture moments in my culture and turn them into a story. I’m very inspired by motherhood. As the oldest sibling, I always had babies around, or my Mum was pregnant. I love pregnancy and babies. So my photography focuses on the maternal side of my culture, in sacred women’s business and Birthing on Country.
People think Birthing on Country means going out and giving birth under a tree. It can mean that, but it doesn’t always. It just means birthing in a way connected to your ancestors and your land. It can be a hospital birth including cultural elements, like having some dirt from your country the baby touches when born. There are all sorts of traditions. Or it’s about having the support you want to make birthing culturally safe for Indigenous women, like having your Mum, Aunties, or sisters present. Lots of hospitals don’t allow more than one or two people in the labour room. But Indigenous women and babies are more at risk, and if we are going to reduce mortality rates, we need to allow practices that make us safer.
I also take photos to help people feel beautiful. It’s hard to talk about, but I was bullied a lot in high school. There was a lot of racism, and I wasn’t the typical definition of beauty. So I struggled a lot and it took me many years, even after having children, to realise everyone is beautiful in their own way.
I remember a mother organising photos of her daughter and telling me her girl was really insecure and didn’t like how she looked. She had such beautiful curly hair, but she hated it because kids at school make her feel curly hair wasn’t the norm. I remember doing fussing over her to make her feel good. Later, the Mum emailed me, thanking me, saying I helped her feel beautiful. And just like that, I realised I could make a difference.
I love photography, but it’s something I do for other people. Painting is all about me. I can pour myself into it, and it provides a release if I’ve had a bad day, so I think painting is actually my favourite.
I didn’t get to Birth on Country for any of my children. I was living down in Perth and was only 20 when I had my first baby. I had no clue. I had always wanted to be a mother. Little girls dream about their wedding day, but I dreamt about becoming a mother. So I guess I was naive and away from my own Mum; I didn’t have connection I needed. So it was amazing, but everything motherhood entails came as a bit of a shock.
I had a better grasp with my second baby, and I guess you could say I became slightly obsessed with pregnancy and motherhood. I read everything I could. One of my sisters had her first son ten-months before my second boy. I started taking photos of her, her belly and then my nephew. I realised I needed to buy a real camera. So I bought one a few weeks before my second son was born, and became enthralled with photography and started my photography business with newborns.
Every Indigenous group has its own traditions around birth, but we have a smoking ceremony after a baby is born. It isn’t straight away but could be within a few weeks. We burn certain leaves or barks to make smoke and then waft it over the baby. The smoke is said to cleanse the baby’s spirit and make it strong inside their bones so they can grow to be a strong, healthy person. With my people, it’s only women who do this tradition. But each group is different.
Unfortunately, I didn’t get to do this with my boys either. My ex-husband was not very on-board with my culture. I missed out on all of that, but it contributes to why I capture and showcase that special tradition. It’s nice to feel part of it.
My mum was a single-mum with six kids, but she was always a career woman. She did her study and got a PhD. She was always working, teaching, studying and looking after us. She showed me you could do it all, and I don’t think I parent any differently to her because she inspired me.
I was in a domestic violence relationship and wanted to leave for years but didn’t know how. When it finally became time, and things were set in place to leave, it was really hard. My mum basically picked up the pieces. She helped me with the kids, and I moved in with her back in Port Hedland. I had to leave my business behind, and I didn’t work for a whole year. I had to learn how to be a single parent, which is really hard on a Centrelink single-parent income. After a year, I got back into business. The whole thing was very scary. I was worried about what my children would think and how it would affect them. It’s not until you become a mum that you really understand the things your own mum did for you or how brave they were. I never really understood it until it was me.
I’m from four different language groups, so it was tough to learn languages fluently growing up. One word can have a different meaning in another language group, so I know words but don’t speak any fluently.
I’m trying to teach my boys as much as possible, and there’s a language centre here with dictionaries, so we try and go there to learn as much as we can, while also spending time with family. The language centre also has children’s books, and I’ve just illustrated one actually. It will be printed soon. It’s written in one of our languages with an English translation and comes with a CD, so you know how to pronounce the words.
Lots my family have passed on so it’s hard to get firsthand knowledge. One of my friends does some Indigenous tours in Ngarluma, which is one of the groups I belong to, so my boys and I sometimes go along to learn or just speak to people.
Elders play a big role in my children’s lives, even if it’s just visiting and hearing their stories. I loved listening to my elders tell stories as a kid, and I think my boys do too. They ask a lot of questions and you can learn lots. My son is now at high school and they have a great program for the Aboriginal boys where the elders come and teach them. I think it plays a huge role. Having my mum around helping out also plays an important role.
I try not to get too involved with politics because it’s kinda depressing. But I read something this morning about the petition taken to Scott Morisson asking for action to prevent violence against women. And basically, he dismissed it. That really frustrates me. As well as his other comments saying, women can access their superannuation if they want to leave a domestic violence relationship. So, women who earn proportionality less than men, who have less super than men, are told to use it if they want to leave a violent relationship? That’s horrible, especially if you’ve been a stay-at-home Mum and haven’t worked. How are you supposed to access money you don’t have? I think it’s a joke and something needs to change.
I am hopeful we will see a change in the future for Indigenous and all Australian women about our rights, violence against women, and birthing rights. I’m also hopeful there will be a more positive representation of our culture in mainstream media so we can all celebrate Indigenous people’s achievements.
I want everyone to dig a little deeper and actually learn about Aboriginal people outside of the stereotype. Take your time, educate yourself, learn: there’s so much more to us. It would help if schools taught about Indigenous people, and elders came into the schools so kids could learn real information from them. In Australian schools, we learn another country’s language and are taught about white settlers. There’s a real positive spin put on things. We don’t talk about the actual history and impact of colonisation.
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