This work is to give back to my family and honour my grandmother’s oral history that my mother Evelyn shared with our family. She told us, that it was always in her thoughts and that she would share with us this story when she thought we were ready.
We heard that when our grandmother Bethel was little, she overheard her dad, Alfred Martin talking to another person about seeing a mermaid down near Piggery Beach at Dunwich. Grandma Bethel was born in 1908, so it is estimated that she would have heard her father discussing this around 1916-1918. It was during the December 2014 holidays, that with my mum and siblings, I began to research recorded stories of mermaids in our area, the traditional lands belonging to the Nunukul, Goenpul and Ngugi peoples.
This family research includes asking my mother’s older sister and visiting online sites like Trove and physically going to the State Library QLD to see whether any records of mermaid sightings have been made in the Moreton Bay Region. At the time of creating the original work in, I believe that Warrajamba is known to most people only through the writings of Archibald Meston, a Scottish journalist and – at the time of his writing – the ‘Protector’ for Aboriginal People in South East Queensland. Meston refers to Warrajamba as being on ‘Morton Island (called " Gnoor- gannpin" by the natives). This sea maiden was "Warrajamba," and the tribe had some very strange legends concerning her various performances on sea and land. She was also a favourite figure in riddles and conundrums. (Meston, 1903).
In 1903 and 1923, Archibald Meston refers to Warrajamba, a sea-maiden or mermaid. Driving this research further, is this reference to a mermaid, and that the possibilities of stories were written elsewhere in Meston’s work.
In later writing, he suggests that it is known that this story is exactly the same as the ‘blacks of Botany Bay’ (Meston 1923), however what the actual story of Warrajamba is, seems to be unknown in the written record. We also do neither why she is a ‘favourite’ nor why her ‘blood has been spilt, which has coloured the sands of Moreton Island’. There is a further frustration, when Meston mentions ‘They had a legend of the mermaid "Warrajamba," and told me an amazing story, too long for this article’ (Meston 1923). Cheryl Taylor discusses that Meston’s work ‘exemplifies the processes by which popular constructions based on eighteenth-century primitivist idealism, romantic adulation for nature, and Victorian concepts of racial evolution and decline continued to submerge Aboriginal culture and voice’ (2003). In this way Meston’s methods of recording Warrajamba is a submersion of the voice of my ancestors. They entrusted a story to him and he did not find fit to include in the article. Meston was around when my grandmother was little. Many questions run through my mind, that did he speak with any of my family. Did he hear the story of Warrajamba from them? When he was given this gift, why didn't he make an accurate record?
This print and a large mermaid I constructed for my exhibition ‘The Search for Warrajamba’ is my record of this oral history from my grandmother, to my mother, to me.
Print number 4/30 to 30/30 available.
Printed by Master Printer David Jones.