Taking a shortcut through the back lanes of Adelaide, an Aboriginal woman approached me holding two paintings. It was late afternoon and she looked tired as if she had been waiting for someone for a long time.
There was a hopeful look in her eyes, but her body language radiated defeat. I stopped, knowing full well that she was going to ask for money, but I couldn’t walk away. I needed to bear witness to this woman’s story. She began by telling me about her son whom she needed to visit, a good man, now in need of money to pay some bills. What I heard was a plea from one mother to another. It didn’t matter how old her son was, as his mother she would do anything for him in the same way I would do anything for my daughter.
She offered me one of two paintings she had completed; I could choose. She wanted a fair exchange, her pride demanded that. When I told her that I had no cash – who does these days? – she suggested an ATM not far from where we stood. I assured her I’d return but she walked with me anyway, making certain that the exchange would take place.
It was hard to choose a painting, they were so different to one another. One was of animals on an ochre background while the one I eventually chose, was painted in vibrant colours and depicted meeting places and possibly a ceremonial site in the centre. I felt the one I chose was the more feminine and would remind me of her strong character.
The painting and that tiny glimpse into her life is now hanging in my bedroom. Mother to mother, I think of her often and wonder how she and her son are getting on. And I wonder whether she knows that she has touched my heart.