In 2010, inspired by Quairading Elder Winnie McHenry, a group of local Quairading community members came together for a reunion at the Badjaling Noongar Reserve in the Central Wheatbelt, a meeting that was the beginning of Bush Babies. It was Winnie’s idea, as one of many babies born on Badjaling Reserve, to record the stories of the last generation of Noongar babies born in the bush and pay tribute to the incredible midwives who delivered them.
Working alongside oral historian Mary Anne Jebb, a film crew from Film and Television Institute’s Indigenous Community Stories recorded the day and photographer Brad Rimmer ran photographic workshops and took portraits of the Elders.
At the reunion the Elders who were born at Badjaling and the Noongar midwives who delivered them shared photographs, stories and memories of the Reserve. Many of the documents and photographs shared on the day had been sourced by women with connections to the Reserve, from the State’s Battye Library and the Department of Indigenous Affairs.
This first phase of Bush Babies sparked a unique collaboration with the State Library of Western Australia. Elders and community members were given access to the Battye Library archives, where many of these Elders found previously unseen photos of themselves as babies.
They pored through the archives discovering countless personal photos, also assisting historians by correctly identifying people in many of the images. Many precious family photos were then repatriated back to community.
With this collection of images and archives, Noongar artist Raelee Cook ran scrapbooking workshops in Kellerberrin and Quairading after the reunion. These workshops brought the community together and gave them the opportunity to keep exchanging images and stories while they artistically curated their photographs, turning them into family heirlooms.
The project culminated in a reunion at Badjaling Reserve, and was the trajectory for several more Bush Babies projects held at different locations on Noongar country. A collection of professional oral history recordings and a video documentary also form part of the legacy of Quairading Bush Babies.