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Regional Arts Development Central West NSW

Micro Grant Stories: Julie Williams’ Smother project

Artist Julie Williams used a 2021 Arts OutWest Micro Grant for a commissioned catalogue essay written by photographer Sally McInerney to accompany her upcoming project ‘Smother’. It’s a fascinating project.

We asked Julie about the grant and the ‘Smother’ project.

What did with the funds from your Arts OutWest Micro Grant?

The AOW Micro Grant was payment for a commissioned catalogue essay written by photographer Sally McInerney to accompany my upcoming project Smother, currently in development for the Cementa21 Art Festival which has been rescheduled to May 2022.

This project is a contemporary reinterpretation of the life of the much loved Lady Bushranger Jessie Hickman (1890-1936) who adopted many roles and disguises in her lifetime as a young, travelling circus performer and in later life as a bushranger in the Kandos/Rylstone region in the Central West of NSW.

The catalogue essay is drafted but due to lockdowns the project is still a work in progress; in the phase of photographing Jessie’s aliases.

What were the benefits gained from your Arts OutWest Micro Grant and how did it help you or others?

Commissioning an essay has stimulated and encouraged an ongoing dialogue between myself and Sally McInerney beyond both our expectations. The creative engagement broadened and contributed significantly to the Smother project, with conversations traversing women’s history, travelling buckjumping circuses and the retelling of our regional stories through contemporary photography.

McInerney has undertaken extensive research to track Hickman, to reveal her elusive identities in a historical context, where women shift like phantoms through the archives with names and roles ever-changing; much like the hand printed final imagery for Smother that will emerge from the negatives in a traditional black and white darkroom. This research not only deepens and extends the stories of Hickman and her contemporaries, but also queries and proffers further discoveries which expose traces of other children and women whose lives were entwined with the travelling circuses of the late 1800s, through into the early decades of the 1900s.

Participation with four locals and myself as subjects, Hickman’s aliases are conjured through analogue in-camera adventures in locations known to have been frequented by Hickman. Each collaborator has brought something intrinsic and unique to the project with a great passion, as has the very land we travelled and worked upon. In my role as the artist creator of Smother, an alter-ego artist, Matilda Breheney, has suddenly emerged from within to take over the Smother project and exhibition.

The project and catalogue essay will contribute new and reimagined material delivered through regional contemporary art to add to the only existing historical archive of Jessie Hickman, that is housed in the Kandos Museum, where the exhibition Smother will be installed during the Cementa21 Festival.

Image. ‘Lost in History’  ©Julie Williams 2020 (cropped) is a photograph taken at a gathering in the Lady Bushranger’s historically inaccurate (supposedly) Kandos Museum diorama in 2015: featuring L-R Matilda Breheney 2020/Julie Williams 1992 and Miss Kemp 2015/Maryanne Gould 1905