Rochelle Patten

Rochelle Patten, 2013
Rochelle Patten, 2013
Image: James Henry
Source: Museum Victoria
I feel I'm protected by the Ancestors and Biame and a lot of spirits.

I'm Yorta Yorta and Wemba Wemba. My grandmother come from Wemba Wemba. I was born in Mooroopna and lived on the riverbanks there. My father, when he filled in a form, and it said place of abode, he put 'riverbank, Mooroopna'. I'm really proud of that. We weren't allowed to live in town so the riverbank wasn't too bad.

We used to go up to Swan Hill picking grapes and whatever was going - tomatoes, peas. Mum used to make us all a little bucket out of the Sunshine milk tin and we had to pick peas. But I ate more than I put in the bucket. We used to set traps, we used to round up the sheep, take them to the shearing sheds. We used to go to school, I used to ride the bike ten miles in and ten miles out. That was my real happy times from when I was about eight to twelve.

I live right in the Barmah Forest on private property. I'm sort of a caretaker there and I live mostly on my own. Summertime I get a lot of visitors come out fishing and rowing the boat and learning. I thought I knew a lot of things about the bush but when you live there for a while you connect with all the little creatures and the birds and their calls. Even when I'm inside I'm still outside in my mind, listening. When I hear the cockatoos carrying on I think well, it’s the eagles. So I go out and there they are. The little firetails used to fly off but now they've got used to me and they don't fly off anymore. We got chooks out there too, they keep me company and I watch what they do. Funny things. So I'm not lonely. It's a great spot and I think people should connect more with Country and themselves.

A friend bought me a boat so I can cruise up and down the river but I get tired of all the other boats out there. Fools get on the river and no respect. You hear comments as they go past sometimes about Aboriginal people. I don't take notice of them. I'm not afraid. I feel I'm protected by the Ancestors and Biame and a lot of spirits. He's our spirit guide. I always talk to him out there. It just feels so good that I'm connected to him. I try to get some people out there, our mob, to come out but I don't know, you talk about spirit and stuff and a lot of our people don't understand that he's there.

When I first went out there I used to put blankets up on the windows so they can't see in. I don't do that anymore. It just took me a while to lose all that negative stuff. If there's any danger, I know that I'm protected because there's always a sign. I know when a snake is nearby because I can feel him. And the willy wagtail makes a certain sound when there’s one around. I hear them and then I go and check, and sure enough there’s a snake there!

Not a lot of kids want go bush now. Even my grandkids, so I've got to write things down if they don't come and see me. There's a Native American gathering concept about sacred fire so I did three of those on Yeilima in the forest where I live. Some of my mob came but there was a lot of healing with white people. They're learning stuff about us. Even though they were whitefellas, that doesn't matter to me anymore. There was about four of them doing Aboriginal studies at university. We can teach them things, even our own kids, to show them what happened here. A lot of them don't know.

I love doing art. I make fish out of boards and wire. My father was a sculptor and used to do kangaroos and emus, emu eggs. I like to try anything and everything. I do a lot in meetings. Annoys people sometimes because they think I'm not listening. You don't have to look at the person to listen, do you? I've got art at the Nathalia hospital, on glass there in the waiting room, and I've got one at the Austin Hospital in the cancer ward.

I got a Masters of Applied Science at Deakin University when I was 50 and I thought I was too old. I did it about the Dungahla (Murray) River and where we lived and how my mother respected everything. Little bit about the Murray Darling Basin, their story and my story. Six years and I was working with the Native Title Legal Service. I've been on the Cummeragunja Aboriginal Medical Service as the chairperson for sixteen years. I sit on the Aboriginal Health and Medical Research Council. I'm one of the directors for my region. When I was at Cummera I was the hairdresser, the vet, the doctor and just everything.

Caroline rang me and asked me to be on Yulendj. Good thing. I'm a bit shy and words don't come too easy for me. One on one I'm OK. Mob or not, I sort of sit back, listen. But happy to be here and contributing my life, growing up, hard times and stuff like that.

It was good to connect with the Yorta Yorta cloak. Those things, they had their own protection and spirit, handled by our Old People. I always think ‘my Ancestors had their hands on that’. I never touch them, even with gloves. 

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Panel in First Peoples exhibition