In November 1973, at the age of 25, Gillian and Watson McAllister emigrated to Sydney, Australia from Glasgow, Scotland.
After a year in Sydney they bought a Kombi van and set off on their ‘adventure of a lifetime’ around Australia. They headed north, just before cyclone Tracey destroyed Darwin, and washed up in Perth where they lived for the next 15 years.
In 1990, with Gillian’s long-service leave from the WA Education Dept, they resumed their journey round Australia and drove their old Land Rover to Kalgoorlie and Adelaide before heading north to Alice Springs and back to Darwin. Before too long, with their skills and experience, they became the Heads of Girls Boarding and Boys Boarding respectively at ‘the jewel in the crown’ for Aboriginal education in those days, Kormilda College in Darwin. There were 360 boarders when the school was full – close to 300 were aboriginal children from all over the Northern Territory, many from remote communities in Arnhem Land and around the Central Desert.
Gillian and Wason were therefore responsible for approximately 120 traditional Aboriginal students in each of their houses. This started their interest in aboriginal culture – They loved the kids and met their families when they came “up to town”. They even hosted a few parents and artists in the available bedsits in the dorms. Mervin Rubuntja and his family became a special friend and was artist-in-residence for a short period of time.
Through their work they went on to visit Oenpelli, Maningrida, Markolijban, the Tiwi Islands (Milikapiti and Pularumpi), Yuendumu, Nyirrpi, Willowra, Lajamanu, Alice Springs, Amoonguna, Ti-Tree, Kalkarindji, Bulman, Barunga, Minyerri, Numbulwar, Borroloola, Ngukurr, Katherine, Tennant Creek, Pepperminarti, Timber Creek, Pigeon Hole. They attended the Barunga Festival, local football matches on Tiwi the Tiwi Islands, and sporting days at Yuendumu; and they arranged for Cathy Freeman and the members of Yothu Yindi to visit and inspire the children in their care.
Everywhere they went they were welcomed by community leaders and parents because they looked after their children. In many of the communities they spent most of their modest salary at the art shop while other pieces in their collection were “gifted” as thanks for looking after their children, though they never had enough walls to hang it all on. And so their love of the people and their art became a touchstone of the lives of these two very Scottish transplants to our shores.
Now both 73 years of age, they have moved into a small apartment they are selling the art and artefacts collected over a lifetime in the hope that others will love them as much as they have. They cherish the memories of their years in Darwin, and their bond with the ‘kids’, now ‘adults’ extends to their children and grandchildren. – it is a bond that lasts forever!
Amongst them are Hermannsburg watercolours, Tiwi and Arnhem Land art and paintings and artefacts from the central Desert, Queensland and Western Australia.