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NAIDOC: Artist Saretta Fielding reflects on all things Country

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As a young child, Saretta Fielding would look forward to NAIDOC Week. 

The afternoon celebrations offered her a chance to relish her culture with the people of Newcastle, both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal. 

The proud Wonnarua and Anaiwan girl would join other kids from the Toronto area bustling into the city for a few hours of festivities at the start of July. 

The annual event became a date Saretta and her family would look forward to all year. 

“We’d jump on the train late to go into Newcastle on a Friday afternoon, that’s where we’d have NAIDOC,” she says. 

“You’d go in and have the egg and spoon and sack races, and a barbecue sizzle.  

“There might be a hundred of us altogether.” 

Aboriginal
Saretta (right) as a young girl.

NAIDOC stands for National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee.  

It takes place annually at the beginning of July, and celebrates the history, culture and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. 

Her Aboriginality is something Saretta is fiercely proud of. 

“I was very fortunate to have uncles and aunties that were very proud Aboriginal people,” she says. 

“One of their key focuses was about sharing culture with us kids.  I’m fortunate to have grown up understanding my identity and being proud of it.  

“I had a very strong Aboriginal family all around me and very loving family, very close-knit family.” 

Many of the traditions associated with her culture, Saretta learned on Country. 

“I was fortunate to grow up going along to culture camps during the holidays.  It was wonderful to be able to visit communities across NSW where I learned about many things including how to catch and cook up bush tucker. 

“We ate turtle, porcupine and goanna on the fire by the creek where we camped,” recalls Saretta. 

“Auntie Ira and Uncle Herb lived in a little shack in the middle of this bush paddock, no power or anything, and a water tank.  

“My uncle would go and he would bring back a kangaroo or a possum, and there would just be a big bowl of stew on the combustion fire.

“We had candles at night, and you’d just sit around the fire and talk until the fire burned down, that’s when you all went to bed.” 

Art was Saretta’s other love. 

“I remember just sitting and colouring in, in my room, or when my mum had taught me to weave and one day I just wove a pair of swimmers that I was never going to wear. I was only nine or 10,” she said.  

“I was on my own when I went down the backyard and started digging to try to find some clay. It was a bit rocky with a bit of dirt in it, but that didn’t stop me making a few pinch pots.  

“They were my times where I got to do what I enjoyed. 

“I liken my artwork to when you’re in the sandpit as a kid, just really having that freedom.

“It’s a gut kind of thing to be creative and I love moving with the textures, but also the colour palette. 

“Being able to blend colour on the canvas to get 10 shades of the same colour by mixing as I move the paint across – I really enjoy that, I feel like it’s play in a way.   

“I used to say every day was Saturday.” 

From her first professional assignment at Honeysuckle, to her regular work developing Reconciliation plans to help businesses Close the Gap, the mother-of-two now successfully runs Saretta Art & Design, a not-for-profit based in Toronto. 

Aboriginal
Saretta’s designs can be found on cushion covers, home decor, canvases and fashion.

NAIDOC Week

This week she has been busy preparing for NAIDOC Week 2023, exhibiting her works at Maitland Regional Art Gallery, Hunter Wetlands and the National Indigenous Art Fair at Circular Quay.  

On Monday 3 July, she will join Newcastle’s NAIDOC celebrations once again, marching from Civic Park to Foreshore Park.

The event, Hosted by Awabakal Ltd, will begin with a flag raising at 9am before a march and festivities until 3pm.

Passionate about all things ‘Culture’, Saretta continues to seek resolutions for Indigenous Australians, unafraid to lend her opinions when asked. 

The Voice

When it comes to topics like the upcoming vote on The Voice, Saretta says kindness and fairness should prevail. 

“If we think about our own family or the different clubs, workplace or sporting teams we are involved in, we like to contribute and have a conversation, have a voice.  

“Aboriginal people are in remote areas, are regional, and are in cities, so it’s a different voice for different areas, and different concerns and issues and challenges that need to be shared,” she said.  

“It’s very important that that voice is heard in the Country that is an Aboriginal people’s traditional lands.” 

The worry, says Saretta, is bringing fear into the conversation. 

“Obviously we want it done in a way that brings the best outcome, but I don’t like to think that we’d muddy the waters with all of those conversations that kind of take us off the key issue of Aboriginal people being able to contribute to the conversation on what concerns them.

“There’s lots of questions and there’s lots of history in Australia. 

“I think it’s difficult because we all live within our own unique set of experiences.  

“I feel that if we could really try and be more mindful of each other and use our influence to lift each other up, that would be a really good thing.” 

Saretta Fielding with the artwork that forms the centrepiece of her new exhibition at MAC.

Reconciliation 

Saretta has been championing reconciliation for many years. 

“I was a part of a team that did the consultation on the East Coast in the early nineties back to government before they started Reconciliation Australia,” she explained.  

“There were different responses back from community and Reconciliation Australia. 

“I’ve seen it as a vehicle, but it comes back to individuals again and commitment from the organisation to plan.  

“It always comes back to influence and leadership because we influence others and bring a culture to whatever area we’re involved in. It comes from those people that are leading it.” 

Reconciliation is always a two-way street. 

“You need to really be working with those Aboriginal people in the communities that you’re wanting to roll out the ideas that you feel are going to address some of those concepts to close the gap,” Saretta added. 

“I think Reconciliation does give a great platform and a vehicle and equips organisations and supports organisations along that journey.

“If I look back to when it first started, you could probably count the amount of Aboriginal businesses on one hand. 

“I’m one of six siblings and my nephew and daughter are the first one’s in my family to attend and finish University. 

“Reconciliation is starting to bring new role modelling to Aboriginal homes where kids can see that it’s not impossible to be a doctor or a professor or a lawyer.  

“It becomes commonplace for children, when not so long ago it was very, very rare. 

“Reconciliation can help one person who might get an opportunity to work in an organisation and follow a career path because they’ve gone into a mentor program, but then that person comes home to their Aboriginal community and we are all extended by that value.”

Saretta Fielding
Saretta Fielding with her work at Maitland Hospital December 2020.

NAIDOC WEEK 2023 in the Hunter:

  • Maitland – Celebration of Existence March, Monday 3 July, 9.30am, Maitland Court House. 
  • Williamtown – Murrook Family Fun Day, Monday 3 July, 10am to 2pm, Murrook Culture Centre. 
  • Valentine – Northern NSW Football NAIDOC Cup, Monday 3 – Wednesday 5 July, Valentine Sports Park. 
  • Karuah – NAIDOC Week Family Fun Day, Tuesday 4 July, 10am to 12.30pm, Karuah Hall, Mustons Road, Karuah. 
  • Speers Point – Lake Macquarie NAIDOC Week 2023 Flag Raising Ceremony, Wednesday 5 July, 9am, Lake Macquarie City Council Administration Building. 
  • Nelson Bay – NAIDOC Week Fun Day, march down Stockton Street at 9.30am and a Family Fun Day at Nelson Bay Foreshore from 10am, Wednesday 5 July. 
  • Singleton – Singleton NAIDOC Week Community Day, Wednesday 5 July, 10am to 2pm, Singleton Showground. 
  • Cessnock – Kiray Putjung Aboriginal Corporation NAIDOC Family Fun Day, Thursday 6 July, 10.30am to 3pm, TAFE Park, Cessnock. 
  • Charlestown – NAIDOC Week Celebrations at Charlestown Square, Saturday 8 July, 10am to 2pm, Charlestown Square, Level 1. 

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