Considered the Mayor of the people, and one of the most respected storytellers and figures in Sydney, Uncle Wes has long been a champion of Aboriginal culture, and cultural advancement.
Bringing his storytelling – a trait that has been passed down by his Grandfather – to schools across NSW, Uncle Wes plays a vital part in lifting the energy of the indigenous spirit, culture, and the thousands of people he has shared stories with. Just fresh off hitting the centenarian mark and being presented with the key to the city, Uncle Wes is enjoying a prolific timeframe.
To coincide with his 100th birthday, Uncle Wes has released a book of poetry, Through Old Eyes. A thoughtful, and poignant collection of poems that reflect his life, offering up poetic prose of recognition and gratitude to his family and to nature, filled with reflections and remembrances that come with a long life. Gnarled Friend and Lore are beauties, speaking to the ancient knowledge that is contained within mother nature. All of these poems are about Uncle Wes’s life, and he shares with everybody his life as an Aboriginal man and everything he has done is in these poems.
We had a chat with Uncle Wes this week, who shared some hard-earned and inherent wisdom.
HAPPY: Hi Uncle Wes, what are you up to today?
UNCLE WES: Making Aboriginal Jewellery and telling my stories at Blacktown Arts Centre at our Elders in Residence every Friday.
HAPPY: Tell us about your neighbourhood, what do you love/not love about where you live?
UNCLE WES: Mt Druitt has been my home to raise my family for over 45 years. It is a great place. BUT… It needs more. Mt Druitt is where I planted my feet and I didn’t want to move. What I don’t like is the drugs people bring to our neighbourhood. The division between the suburbs! That was never like that before, and those suburbs feeling left out of the LGA Blacktown City Council. The stigma portrayed by the media is like we are the only ones with the problems.
HAPPY: Describe your day?
UNCLE WES: Enjoyable. Meeting with great people and yarning up over damper cockiesjoy and a cuppa.
HAPPY: What about your ultimate day?
UNCLE WES: Being with other Elders, knowledge holders in the community, and young people. Sharing stories and listening and learning from each other. You are never too old to learn and understand each other.
HAPPY: What was your earliest story memory?
UNCLE WES: Sitting at Dead Bird Mission listening to my Grandfather tell Dreamtime Stories.
HAPPY: What was your favourite story growing up?
UNCLE WES: The story of the Lyre Bird.
HAPPY: All-time favourite three stories?
UNCLE WES: The Story of the Waratah. What makes the Kookaburra Laugh. And the Echidna (The Biggabilla)
HAPPY: Which story did you last hear/read that opened your eyes and mind to a new perspective?
UNCLE WES: My Grandfather taught me about CONSERVATION. But I didn’t know it at the time. I went out hunting with my grandfather. Whilst he was following the tracks of the next meal, I was eating a fruit I knew of as napalm. I loved it. I was scoffing it down when he grabbed by the munga (the ear) and said you have had enough. I said but I love it. And he said. I know you love it. But!! If you eat it all, what will the birds and other animals eat? You have to leave some for them and only take what you need. Because, if they can’t eat. They will die. They can live without us. But we can’t live without them. It was about 15 years later that I realised my grandfather was teaching me about conservation.
HAPPY: Is there one story that you would like to share, that you think imparts a valuable life lesson for children?
UNCLE WES: My Dreamtime story the Kwinnies. It tells of moral lesson, we all forget about enjoying life and imaginary play, and creativity. Don’t grow up to fast. Don’t push your children to grow up too fast. Enjoy life and play in the dirt. Have face-to-face yarns and be present with your children and family. Listen to and tell more stories and have conversations in the same room.
HAPPY: You have recently just been handed the keys to the city to mark your 100th birthday. How did it feel?
UNCLE WES: HEAVY!! I never expected anything like this. It is a great honour. I never realised that what I do meant so much to so many. People tell me of all ages how my stories, my Dreamtime, my poems, and my life stories have impacted their lives. Both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal 2 and 3 generations. It makes me feel like I’m worthwhile. One time at a primary school in Mt Druitt. A young child said to their parent. Come meet Uncle Wes. He told us Dreamtime stories.
And I heard the mum say, ‘Uncle Wes told me Dreamtime Stories when I went to school too’. This is my Dreaming. It’s what I was meant to do. I was passed on the stories to become a storyteller. But I didn’t know at the time. What I do know now though. Is we are all here to do something, to contribute. To make something of ourselves for those who did before us. And that takes work and never giving up. To keep going, keep moving. Leave your mark and be something someone else can look up to.