Brenda L. Croft, She never got used to the heat from the series Colour b(l)ind (1998). Collection of the Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory. Purchased 2000. On display in exhibition Hot! Highlights from the MAGNT Art Collection, MAGNT, Darwin, until August 13. Brenda L. Croft’s earliest memories of growing up in the suburbs of Perth in the 1960s are of “carefree days” — the white heat of high summer and learning to swim at the beach.
But Croft also remembers how her mother, Dorothy, was scrutinised by the neighbours because she was a white woman married to Joseph, an Aboriginal man. Croft remembers the snide remarks made by the neighbours and how, at one stage, her mother was reported to the authorities and falsely accused of neglecting her children. Her mother’s silent response was to ensure that both the house and yard were spotless, her children immaculately dressed and well-mannered.
“As the eldest child, I became aware from a young age of the silent accusing stares directed towards my family and learned to stare right back,” Croft writes of her childhood in Don’t Go Kissing at the Garden Gate. “Handsome black man married to young white woman daring to try and build a happy home was always beyond the pale for many of our neighbours: no matter where we lived, how well we children were dressed or how gorgeous the garden grew.”
From those early days in Perth, Croft went on to become an artist, curator and academic. She was a founding member of the Boomalli Aboriginal Artists Co-operative in Sydney, and her work is in all major public institutions. One of her images, She never got used to the heat, from Darwin’s Museum and Art Gallery of the Northern Territory collection, is on display in Hot! Highlights from the MAGNT Art Collection.
She never got used to the heat is from the series Colour B(l)ind and was first shown in 1998 in a solo exhibition, In My Father’s House. After Croft’s father died in 1996, she decided to explore her ancestry in a series of multi-layered images incorporating text and photographs. Her father, a Gurindji man, was taken from his family when he was just 18 months old under the government policy that allowed for the removal of Aboriginal children from their families. Her mother, of Anglo-Australian, Celtic and German heritage, grew up in Sydney. Dorothy and Joseph met while working on the Snowy Mountains Hydro-electric Scheme, then moved to Perth and had three children.
The gallery’s curator of Australian art, Wendy Garden, says Croft’s work is very auto- biographical and usually focuses on her father’s story, but She never got used to the heat is different because it focuses on the experiences of Croft’s mother.
“Australia of course in the 1960s was a very narrow, disapproving place and this work is about the heat that her mother felt by the neighbours watching and being very disapproving of the choices she had made by marrying an Aboriginal man,” Garden says.
“Returning to Perth as an adult, Croft went back to her mother’s garden, which was exactly as she remembered it. By combining a recent photograph of the garden with old family snapshots and text, Croft considers the fragmented nature of memories.”
Garden describes She never got used to the heat as a strong work.
“The surface of this print is just absolutely beautiful,” she says. “The coppery qualities just glow. It is a very sophisticated work that encourages you to actually look at what’s going on. Your eye is constantly going around the work looking at the various elements of text and the faint photograph of her mother in the background. It is very evocative and has a really subtle elegance to it. At the same time, it radiates this warmth. It really does capture that sense of that glowing yellow heat and sun.”
Ilfachrome print, 81.5cm x 54.4cm