Grass Seed Dreaming
Barbara Weir was born about 1945 at Bundey River Station, a cattle station in the Utopia region (called Urupunta in the local Aboriginal language) of the Northern Territory. Her parents were Minnie Pwerle, an Aboriginal woman, and Jack Weir, a married Irish man described by one source as a pastoral station owner, by a second as an Irish Australian man who owned a cattle run called Bundy River Station but by another as an Irish stockman. Under the anti-miscegenation racial laws of the time, their relationship was illegal, and the two were jailed. Weir died not long after his release. Pwerle named their daughter Barbara Weir.
Weir was partly raised by Pwerle’s sister-in-law Emily Kngwarreye. (After age 80, Kngwarreye took up art and became a prominent artist) Weir grew up in the area until about age nine. One of the Stolen Generations, she was forcibly removed from her Aboriginal family by officials; the family believed she was later killed. This was done under the Aborigines Protection Amending Act 1915, government or assigned officers were authorized in the territories to take half-caste children to be raised in British institutions to assimilate them to European culture. Some, like Weir, were “fostered out”, and she grew up in a series of foster homes in Alice Springs, Victoria, and Darwin. Boys were usually prepared for manual jobs and girls for domestic service.
In midlife, Weir began to explore Aboriginal artistic traditions. She first painted in 1989 at the age of about 45. Five years later in 1994, she was one of a group of ten Utopia women who travelled to study batik in Indonesia.
Her paintings include representations of particular plants and dreamings, inspired by deep Aboriginal traditions. It has been exhibited and collected by major institutions. Art expert Jenny Green has commented, “In some of her paintings residual traces of women’s ceremonial designs are almost entirely obscured by the heavy textural application of natural ochres.
After Weir’s mother Minnie Pwerle took up painting on 2000, she quickly became a successful artist. Weir played a significant role in managing her mother’s artistic career, including regularly preventing her from being “kidnapped” by people wanting the aging artist to paint for them.