For Vince, sorry comes just in time

VINCE Serico was taken in 1953 at the age of four from his parents on Cherbourg Mission, in southern Queensland, placed in a dormitory with scores of other children and kept there until he was 18.
From those humble and deprived beginnings he rose to become a famous artist, but success hid a life of violence, imprisonment and alcoholism. Serico was not one invited by Kevin Rudd to attend Parliament House on Wednesday to witness the apology to him, his sisters and thousands of other members of the Stolen Generations.
But even if he had been, he could not go, because this revered recorder of Aboriginal life is close to death.
Cancer in his throat and liver is so advanced that he speaks only in a whisper, and is now almost too weak to stand.
Speaking yesterday through his partner, Florence Weatherall, Serico said the apology was important to him. ``Vince and his two sisters were taken and he was reunited with one only after 50 years of being apart,'' Ms Weatherall said.
``He grew up with a lot of sadness because of being locked away, and that led to the drinking and domestic violence that saw him go to jail.''
Aboriginal and Islander artists throughout Australia have rallied to donate paintings for a sale at the Footsteps Gallery in Brisbane on February 22 to raise funds for Serico's funeral.
Those who have donated include Judy Watson, Rick Rosser, Joanne Currie Nalingu, Laurie Nilsen, Richard Bell, Deb Taylor, Jennifer Herd, Bianca Beetson, Lloyd Hornsby and Glen Evans.
Organiser and close friend Peter Mulcahy has also been asked by Serico to finish two of his uncompleted paintings, and they, too, will be sold. ``We painted Vince an exhibition because words cannot adequately describe so kind and forgiving a soul as this man,'' Mulcahy said.
``This is an example of our people looking after one of our own -- this is our culture on display.
``One of our elders is dying and I have unbelievable pride in seeing what is being done, particularly at so poignant a time in Australia's history -- poignant because of what saying `sorry' means to Aboriginal people like Vince and so many of his brothers and sisters.''
The artworks on display include one from Serico's 16-year-old daughter, Enid, who has painted under instruction by her father for several years.
Serico's paintings are hung in the Singapore National Gallery, the National Gallery of Australia, National Museum of Australia and most state galleries.
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In the periods when he concentrated on his art, Serico put on canvas what he had learnt and experienced of the spiritual and real lives of his people.
In doing so he broke the traditional dot-painting mould of producing canvases that recounted the massacres of blacks, revenge attacks on whites and the general violence of colonial times.
However, the most poignant were those of his own life and times, showing the drinking, despair and domestic violence.
He drew flak a decade ago when he painted Mabo, which shows the Aboriginal flag torn in half. At the time, Serico explained that the 1992 High Court decision recognising prior ownership of Australia by indigenous people would see fights over money and compensation that would infect Aboriginal Australia.
Another of his more famous works, White Man Stole Wyndermere, completed in 2003, tells the story of a white man who stole an Aboriginal woman and was subsequently killed by Aborigines who sought to get her back.
``That's how they killed him, that's true,'' Serico wrote in the sale catalogue at his last major showing last year.
Another, Hornet Bank Payback, painted in 2006, shows tribal Aborigines killing house dogs before they raid a homestead at Taroom, in southern Queensland, killing all residents but one. History tells how those involved, and many others, were subsequently slaughtered by whites in retribution.