Editor, Writer, Designer—beneath the Hidden Midden?
WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, please note that that this article may contain names and photos of deceased Indigenous person/s.
Hidden Midden Uncovering Truth was the title of the exhibition catalogue that was launched in December 2019, at HOTA (Home of the Arts) on the Gold Coast, as a part of an outdoor exhibition. The 40-page catalogue was one of the prestigious outcomes of the 2019 South Stradbroke Island Indigenous Artist Camp that was a City of Gold Coast initiative, delivered by the Arts and Culture team and was edited by Lystra Bisschop.
On April 29th, 2019, Gordon Hookey (Lead Artist), Laurie Nilsen (Teaching Artist), Rick Roser (Teaching Artist), Bianca Beetson (Teaching Artist), Alicia Jones (Mentor Artist), Libby Harward (Mentor Artist), and eleven Featured Artists (Felicia Agale, Colin Appo, Lystra Bisschop, Alara Cameron, Sonja Carmichael, Mark Cora, Sylvia Nakachi, Dominique Normand, Will Probert, Rebecca Ray, and Ronda Sharpe) left the docks at Hope Island to spend five days immersed in Indigenous culture and art.
Being Lystra’s first artist camp, she was concerned about “Industry Day”—an annual event when 30 or more influential people from the Art world were invited to South Straddie to enjoy the camp participant’s outdoor exhibition. “The other artists had been planning and prepping all week for our island art exhibition,” said Lystra. Although she had won a national writing award in 2018 (The State Library of QLD’s Black&write! Award), Lystra didn’t see herself as a visual artist because she was a writer who hadn’t shared her work with anyone, let alone performed it.
“As a novelist, I had nothing—thought I’d melt into the background for the day,” she said. But this didn’t happen. In the early morning of Industry Day, Lystra jolted awake in her dark wooden cabin with two words echoing through her mind: “strength” and “dignity”. She grabbed a torch, pen and notebook, and scribbled relentlessly while she lay on the bottom bunk. Those two words were the start of a free verse poem, Unshakeable, that Lystra exclaimed as, “coming up out of the earth and wrapping around me like a warm cloak.” She thought it was too powerful to keep locked away. It was time to face her fear and share her poem with 40 strangers, 40 important people in the art world, and (at that stage) were only a 40-minute boat ride away.
Lystra said that she left the poem in its raw, unedited state because of the way it came to her—it needed respect. After the guests shuffled off the boat and onto the beach, Lystra stood barefoot in the sand—on saltwater country—and, for the first time in her life, read her poem to a large crowd of strangers. “Being true to myself means sharing openly, without a façade, without wearing a mask that seeks approval,” she said. “Camp was more than art or culture or deeper connections. It was a place where I found a new confidence—a belief in myself, and in my voice.”
Camp had indeed boosted Lystra’s confidence. A couple of months later, Lystra performed her poem twice for NAIDOC in front of hundreds of people. In October that same year, Lystra performed a short story Death Cures as a part of Stories in the Key of GC at HOTA, to a sold-out venue.
At that same time, Lystra was contracted to be editor of the exhibition catalogue (Hidden Midden Uncovering Truth—the title she coined), a book which she designed, interviewed and then wrote nine of the artist’s statements as well as the Industry Day, Thank You, and Acknowledgement to Country pages.
Lorraine Pilgrim, a highly successful Gold Coast artist who is the director of the Lorraine Pilgrim Art Studio said, “This catalogue was simply one of the best arts catalogues I have seen in many years. The publication was so brilliant and very professional, I was able to write to the Gold Coast City Arts and Culture Project Officer and sing her (Lystra’s) praises.”
New confidence and belief in herself had certainly paid off. Lystra now spends her days writing, editing, homeschooling her two kids, and spending time with her family surfing at their local beach. She loves her lifestyle: “I like to challenge my fears daily, but it’s important to find a balance between pushing out of my comfort zone and staying true to myself.”