ABORIGINAL & TORRES STRAIT ISLANDER READERS: the following interview contains reference to deceased persons.
The temperature dipped to one degree Celsius as I travelled northward over the Great Dividing Range. In my periphery, flat pastures were transformed into a magical silvery-white carpet of frost. Minutes later, I stepped through Wangaratta’s cool, crisp morning air and became enveloped in the welcoming warmth of Gitta’s smile and the radiance of her colourful cardigan. Gitta Amor in person, is equal to her name; I feel surrounded by universal love.
Spending a moment with Gitta, feels like journeying a few lifetimes filled with richness, insights,creativity, passion and inspiration.
The daughter of German immigrants, Gitta was born on the Amber Coast of East Prussia (now separated into Russia and Poland). As a 9 year old, accompanied by her sister and mother, she arrived in Melbourne, 12 months after her father. With the knowledge of 100 English words, she began her Australian life in Ocean Grove, Victoria. ( http://www.abc.net.au>stories>2012/5/11 )
Gitta’s stories are rich in detail with remarkable connections and interconnections. Pre-war, her Prussian grandfather was a wealthy wholesaler of textiles. Gitta recalls that her southern grandfather was one of the first hobby photographers in Munich, Germany. Her textile-oriented grandfather’s ingenuity in harnessing his knowledge, utilising her father’s expertise as a tailor and accessing what resources remained available after the devastation of the European conflict, resulted in a business renowned for its tailored fur garments. These characteristics are recognisable within Gitta’s artistic works.
Uniquely creative, colourful, accepting, with a spirit of respect for humanity, all creatures, our earth and the universe; it is a challenge to express the depth of Gitta’s influence on her community. While Gitta taught German within the primary schools of country Victoria, she continued to develop her life as a Fibre Artist. Some of her pursuits include running basketry workshops, paper-folding with recycled materials, spinning, weaving, sculpture, felting, crocheting and photography. An enticing pile of Basketry books sit in her lounge, amongst woven cane, copper wire, bright orange woven cloth and recycled bicycle spokes. She points to a striking yellow weave and identifies this as ‘hayband’. Her room is filled with stories; reclaimed wiring from electric blankets, some woven, others waiting for the moment of inspiration. Gitta tells of the man who painstakingly removes the electric cord and re-stitches the wool into blankets for the homeless: I am struck by the interrelatedness of our actions within our communities.
In viewing her display of art, I realise so many of us have limited our choices to the new, exotic or familiar. Yet Gitta inspires; by demonstrating how ‘junk’ can be transformed into practical and original forms.
I view bicycle spokes, converted into a loom;
haybands (synthetic twine used to secure bales of hay) woven into a strong base;
copper wired sculptured creatures;
plastic bottle woven vessels;
remnants of old theatre curtains, appliquéd into an evening bag;
newsprint, magazines and advertising material converted into angels of peace and healing.
There does not seem to be an item or fibre unsuitable for Gitta’s handiwork; weeds, natural and synthetic fibres, surplus and used materials. Repurposing and rejuvenating objects is Gitta’s way of life.
A number of years ago, along with the Basket Makers of Victoria, she participated in weaving a giant willow sculpture in Melbourne’s Federation Square. The transformation of this invasive plant through basketry exemplifies opportunities awaiting recognition as valuable resources. There is no static in this environment, instead, life and living is a process. Is this the essence and wisdom subtly woven within the warps and wefts of crafting and being? Is this the secret; the rejuvenating influence of holding a fibre within one’s hands and combining, faith, skill and individuality to develop the raw material into a transformed repository?
When Gitta’s family arrived in Australia, her father, a former Captain and Independent Artillery Officer of the German Army, worked cleaning the cloisters of Geelong Grammar School. Their accommodation was sold within two weeks of their arrival, and they were facing homelessness. A doctor who assisted them in finding a place to live, also introduced the family to the Moral Re-Armament (MRA) movement in Geelong. Originating in the 1920s and 30s, this group sort to create trust and reconciliation among former enemies or opposing groups; based on individual change and motivation and emphasising co-operation, honesty and mutual respect. Much of the issues confronting the population over 80 years ago, are most relevant to us, at this present moment. From 2001, this movement is now known as ‘Initiatives of Change (IofC) and continues to influence future generations in taking responsibility for a moral and spiritual renewal of society.
Margaret Lilardia Tucker*(1904-1996), Wiradjuri and Dhulinyagen descendant, who spent her early years at Cummeragunja Mission, and suffered successions of inappropriate treatment and abuse, was deeply influenced by the MRA movement and well known to Gitta’s family. Margaret was a peacemaker, while seeking to reconcile the wrongs of the past. Gitta recollects babysitting Margaret’s daughter. This interaction lead to Gitta’s friendship with Bangerang Elder, John ‘Sandy’ Atkinson. Gitta affectionately refers to Sandy as her ‘Aboriginal Mentor’ and recalls basket-weaving with him. The late, John Sandy Atkinson gave Gitta her sacred totem; the blue wren. Over the years, Gitta has come to understand the deep significance of this bestowing.
After hearing of her family’s efforts to reconcile humanity through meeting with like-minded individuals, I slowly absorb the impact of those decisions, on the myriad of people who have become connected with Gitta. She has friends throughout her community and the world, who regardless of their ethnic or religious backgrounds, find acceptance and respect within each other. I gaze at the clay sculptor gifted to Gitta by a Jewish-Australian artist. This environment radiates harmony, connection and acceptance.
Gitta Amor is also a Reiki Master and Soul Healer. She combines her art and teaching to enkindle nurturing self awareness. As I tour her special spaces, my eyes rest on a sea of energising lotus flowers; each flower lovingly folded from coloured papers. Soft music exudes a sense of peace and tranquility. ‘My role is to inspire through arts and the teaching field’, Gitta discloses, ‘to help people look at their vocabulary’. She refers to the inner voice by which we live our life; encouraging us to move that element of doubt and know that we all, are worthy of success, love, belonging and a full life.
Gitta is a change-agent; she seeded the concept of providing ‘Do Care’ within the Wangaratta region (Wesley Do Care is a social support service which reaches out to isolated and frail members of our population, specifically our older peoples https://govolunteer.com.au ). ‘I never watch the news’, Gitta declares, ‘I’m always making the news’. Her solid statement hits a nerve inside me, and I am filled with renewed motivation to realise a celebratory, harmonious and thoughtful life.
Volunteering is an essential element of Gitta’s existence. I wonder if this word is frequently misunderstood and the power of this behaviour, underestimated. I have found it to be a reciprocative relationship in which one unexpectedly receives so much more than the effort given out. I consider what I have learned of Gitta’s life, this morning: her interaction, connection and zest in sharing and mindful caring amongst individuals and community, has been a constant, while living within this country. She has been the Women’s Access Officer at the Wangaratta Adult Education Centre (currently referred to as The Centre). She speaks of how her life has been nourished through a friendship with one of her ‘Dutch mentors’. Gitta recalls the wisdom passed onto her ‘You do not know what someone is like when the door is shut’ she states. And I hear and feel how she is able to listen and work with the inside story of the people and material surrounding her.
Wangaratta is a textile town. Many of the activities in which Gitta partakes, connect her with the lives and passions of her ancestors. She was the first to photograph the rising of the Wangaratta Performing Arts Centre. Photography, weaving, recycled objects, angels or supporting the community; Gitta’s life is entwined with the creative activity of the Wangaratta Art Gallery (http://wangarattaartgallery.com.au). She is a member of the multi-talented Wangaratta Handweavers & Spinners Guild (http://www.wangspinners.com) and the Basket Makers of Victoria (http://www.basketmakersofvictoria.com.au).
Gitta tells me of her fresh ideas for a developing creation; colourful, celebratory and full of strength. My heart feels nourished from these moments with Gitta. Her joy in living, beaming smile and genuine care, radiate from her spirit. ‘The mouse is my fun symbol’ she informs me. As, I prepare to leave, I am gifted two books with a drawing of her sweet mouse within the covers. Gitta Amor; Fibre Artist, friend and irrefutably, my teacher. I begin to grin as I accept that she has just opened my mind to another path for me to unravel and re-weave.
“If Everyone Cared: Autobiography of Margaret Tucker MBE’. Published 1983,
Gitta Amor Mob: 0402 951 742 E: http://firstname.lastname@example.org
Interview: Winter, Victoria, Australia, 2016