Aunty Barb Egan at the campsite where she lived as a child.
Image: Kimberley Moulton
Source: Museum Victoria
Muthi Muthi Elder Aunty Barb Egan's journey as an artist has spanned over 40 years, weaving her life stories and experiences through her art, ever changing and evolving.
Art has always been a part of her life; as a young girl painting at school and in her family home, Aunty Barb recalls 'I would be at school and draw all the time, I wasn't good at writing but drawing, that's what I loved.'
The experience growing up on the Murray in Robinvale plays an important role in her art, from the beginnings as a young artist at school finding her creative voice, to starting a business. 'I was only little girl when we got here to the river in Robinvale, and never left. The banks were our playground, we played hopscotch and would make trolleys and stilts out of the old sunshine milk tins, it's amazing what you can make out of those old tins. We also used to go and get the sweet honey that fell from the bee hives in the trees, droplets would fall to the ground and we would go and lick the bark or leaves and also pick up the droplets with a stick, they were our lollies, you know. That tree is still there on the banks but the honey doesn't seem to happen anymore, the environment has changed. It was good times here on the river; I've always wanted to come back to the river to live'.
Miss Emily is a business created over 14 years ago and has successfully grown into a flourishing studio where talented friend Thomas Tamock, known as M. Mok through his art, collaborates with Aunty Barb on many creative projects. The Miss Emily products range from handmade and painted ceramics, paintings and lino prints to beautiful hand painted silk scarves and greeting cards, all designed by Aunty Barb and Tommy and sold throughout Australia. 'I started with only a small bench space in a shed a long time ago, now it has grown into two large sheds, one a studio the other our gallery space, we have lots of people visit all the time, especially in the winter when we have the fire going, people never leave! My grandchildren come and visit, we call them the shed babies, it's a great space for us, and the community'.
Aunty Barb is a important Elder in the Robinvale community, sharing her knowledge and stories at schools and festivals and is a stall holder for the Melbourne Koorie Night Market held throughout the year, her understanding and generosity making her a much loved Elder throughout the state of Victoria.
'I was born on the banks of the Murray river, I can still remember Dad carrying me on his back when I was younger. I don't think I'd ever leave Robinvale, I've got the river, it's my home, I just love it here'.
Aunty Barb’s art practice in recent times has focused on her connection to Robinvale and the river surrounds, inspired by the natural environment. The twisted roots of the river gum, the ripples of the water and the natural line patterns formed like stories in the sand. Mapping of the river area around her home is also inspiration, using her art as a medium of teaching and sharing culture and knowledge.
Aunty Barb's exhibition, River Woman, was on show at Birrarung from 17 February until 24 June 2012.