Painting by Brianna Webster
Brianna Webster is a Wathaurong woman who, like many Indigenous Australians, didn’t grow up knowing her cultural practices. “My culture runs in my mum’s side of the family, with my two sisters and my brother,” she says. “Our family traces back to Ballarat where a lot of my mum’s family live. My great-great-grandfather was the first Indigenous man to volunteer to go to war; rather than being forced to go, he put his hand up to volunteer.”
Brianna spent most of her childhood in Gippsland before moving to the Mornington Peninsula when she was 13. At 25 she was wondering, “How do I get involved with my culture?” Her sister had found Willum Warrain Aboriginal Association in Hastings and recommended Brianna go along.
Brianna Webster – Artist.
“Women’s group was one of the first things that popped up; I love women’s group. They’re just a great bunch of ladies, very inclusive and super-friendly. We have open discussions. They try to make it as cultural as possible; we’re always doing things that are significant to Indigenous women. We had an Elder come in and teach us how to make a possum-skin cloak. The cloak that’s here has had three generations of my family work on it, which is really wonderful: my nan, my mum, and me and my two sisters.”
Through the women’s group, Brianna has also developed as an artist. “Art was something I thought ‘I’m OK at it’. I never really thought I was really great at it. The feeling that I could actually paint and make something out of my paintings probably started when I came here.” Brianna has been commissioned to paint murals for Mordialloc Surf Lifesaving Club, a kindergarten, and a major work in Frankston in collaboration with Melbourne Murals. A highlight has been having her paintings projected on the AAMI Park stadium roof for two Melbourne Storm Anzac Day games.
Brianna is employed at Willum Warrain as cultural landscape co-ordinator/horticultural lead; she has a Bachelor of Applied Science (Parks, Recreation and Heritage) and could talk about plants all day. “I’ve always loved the outdoors. My dad worked for Parks Victoria so we spent a lot of time out in national parks and I always really loved it. Being at Willum has allowed me to focus on specific plants and what they’re used for. I really love plants. We started up a bush nursery last year; community can come and buy local indigenous plants.”
Some of Brianna’s favourites include black wattle, apple berry and murnong. “Apple berry produces a berry that kind of tastes like apple custard. It has a weird texture; it’s kind of slimy like a really over-ripe kiwifruit, but the taste is worth it. A medicine plant we talk about is tarook, or small-leaf clematis. That’s known as a headache plant. Basically what you do is if you have a headache, you take a big vine of it – it’s a creeper – and you wrap it around your head and it gets rid of your headache.”
Of Willum Warrain, Brianna says: “The place is really special. Everybody that comes to Willum always comments on how peaceful and calm the grounds are. When they come here they can just sit and it relaxes them. We are a culturally safe place and everyone is welcome.”
Artwork by Briana Webster.
Tarook, the headache plant.