Arts and Culture

Connected to Country

Artist Profile: Aunty Jan Williams

Despite her travels all around Australia, Butchulla artist and elder Aunty Jan Williams has always called the Fraser Coast home. Born in 1955 to a Butchulla and Yugambeh Mununjali father and South Sea Islander mother, Aunty Jan grew up in Pialba which she recalls was “just sugarcane, pineapple crops and bush back then.” Childhood days were spent on Pialba beach or playing in ‘Rookie’s Paddock’ (where the Hervey Bay Library now stands). “All the kids used to play together – South Sea Islander, Punjabi, white kids, black kids – it didn’t matter!” she recalls.

Aunty Jan’s most memorable artistic experience dates back to the early 1980s, when elder Shirley Foley organised a group of senior Mutitjulu women from Uluru to travel to K’gari to give workshops to local Butchulla women on woodworking skills. “I made a very special carving of a serpent out of Black Wattle wood. It was a very meaningful experience for me.”

When asked who her greatest inspiration is, Aunty Jan wastes no time in naming her father, Les Williams. “He passed away in 1999, but he still inspires me. He had a strong sense of justice. Pialba had a large South Sea Islander population as a result of blackbirding. In the late 1930s, as a form of compensation the local landowners gave plots of lands to the South Sea Islanders along what was then known as Fraser Street. Les successfully lobbied the council for the street to be given a more suitable name and as a result it is known to this day as Islander Road.”

Speaking of her art practice, Aunty Jan says “weaving is something that came naturally to me.” Jan has contributed two sets of weavings to the current exhibition at Hervey Bay Regional Gallery – Land, Sea and Sky. Being a part of this exhibition is significant for Aunty Jan, not just because it is a survey of works by Indigenous artists connected to Butchulla Country, but because it is the first time her work will be exhibited alongside that of her children.

“I have had many exhibitions all over Queensland but never with my kids. Deleece and Aaron are my two eldest. It’s a good feeling showing artwork alongside them.”

Photographer: Jessica Cook

Was this page helpful?