Watson has also experienced the after-effects of forced removal, through her grandmother being taken from her mother as a baby. The poignant memorial to her grandmother, who passed away recently, is revealed in under the act 2007, an artist’s book inspired by the ofﬁcial documents held in the Queensland State Archives relating speciﬁcally to the artist’s family. Hidden histories revealed, laid bare, like an open wound which needs the air to heal.
My grandmother was Grace Isaacson. She was born in 1912 on Riversleigh Station in north-west Queensland and recently passed away at the age of 94 on Anzac Day 2007 in Mt Isa. Recently I saw my Grandmother’s ﬁles contained in the Queensland State Archives. She was born ‘under the act’, and this is the title of my recent artist’s book, which uses documents and letters from the Department of Native Affairs, the Protector of Aborigines and her employers.
It was while I was conducting this research that I found out that my grandmother’s Aunty Kathleen had been sent to Palm Island and another family member was either going to be sent to Palm Island or Woorabinda or Cherbourg by the police.
My grandmother said in an interview I made with her: ‘They threatened you with being sent to an island, I didn’t know which island but I didn’t want to go there and not see anyone anymore’.
Judy Watson, 2007
Judy Watson’s artist’s book under the act 2007 made its debut as a work in progress in Lessons in history vol. 1: an exhibition of artists’ books looking at history and the lessons of history, held at Grahame Galleries + Editions in March–April 2007.
As with the artist’s ﬁrst artist’s book, a preponderance of aboriginal blood (2005), which deals with Aboriginal people’s Right to Vote, Judy Watson has drawn on letters, papers and ofﬁcial documents found in the Queensland State Archives as well as personal family photographs as a base for under the act. The documents from the archives this time, however, pertain to her great-grandmother and grandmother who lived under the Aboriginal Protection and Restriction of Sale of Opium Acts of 1897. They also reveal the categories, “full blood”, “half-cast”, “quadroon”, “octeroon”, ascribed to aboriginal people of the day.
Using etching and lithographic techniques this work makes a powerful statement about life Under the Act. Amongst documents from the archives used in the book is Watson’s great grandmother’s ‘exemption card’. These cards allowed holders to live and work outside the reservations, and were called ‘dog tags’ by their holders, as they were obliged to carry them on their person at all times. Also included are letters of objection from various parties to authorities at the time Watson’s aboriginal grandmother and white grandfather were seeking permission to marry.
In documenting her family’s life in under the act, Watson etches the history of all aboriginal people who lived Under the Act.
Lessons in history vol. 1 information sheet for under the act 2007, Brisbane: Grahame Galleries + Editions, 2007, n.p