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african diaspora

I was born in England at the beginning of World War II. I thought my mother and father were English and Scottish, but I was a very dark and different child, and everyone expected me to be what they called a “refugee” which generally meant something unpleasant, if you looked at their faces when they said it.

African Diaspora

I was taken to Australia in 1947, and things got worse for me here. I was bullied at all levels of school and in the street – Australia was all-white in those days. And so it continued until I was nearly driven crazy..... Until I finally found my Jamaican family. This was a profound and healing experience for finding a world of parrots when I had lived among pigeons. And, I am definitely, without question, a parrot.

My great, great grandfather and his brother left a poor-scrabble existence in Scotland and went to Jamaica to make their fortune, at about the time slavery was very slowly being abolished. John Girvan worked hard, acquired land and had a family with a lady known in the family tree only as “A Jamaica Girl” He was good man; he educated his children; and acknowledged them in his will, unlike many. He married his daughter to her white cousin, and her daughter and sons were subsequently sent to Scotland when their mother died, to be brought up by relatives. They became Scottish in all but colour and personality.

My father became a chemical engineer and fell in love with the palest-skinned lady in England. I was always amazed that her skin was totally snow-white, like my own daughter’s. She really didn’t know that my father was mixed-race, and so it went on. It must have been much safer not to mention ancestry; to keep very quiet.

For me, finding my ancestry was an enormous relief, even after I had read the history of my African slave ancestors and found that I was descended from both sides –the Europeans who founded their Empires through selling my other ancestors as disposable commodities. The origins of Jamaican slaves are mostly unknown, other than generally from West Africa and possibly Ashante, so I felt that as an artist, I should just go with my instincts – and I do that in this part of my work.

And I have done a lot of work from my instincts. It isn't understood and certainly doesn’t sell in Australia - too strange, too colourful, too dark, just like I have always been, but I am compelled to keep on working, because that is who I am.