This interview with sculptor Suzanne Alexopoulos was conducted in 2008, as part of a small project about a then planned sculpture memorialising activist priest Father Ted Kennedy and Mum Shirl [Shirley Smith], a renowned Aboriginal activist and social worker. In her interview Suzanne talks about the complications of artists creating as a group, the difficulties inherent in public art, and her thoughts about the memorial sculpture (which ultimately did not eventuate). In the excerpt Suzanne discusses what she found when she talked to Indigenous elders about Mum Shirl.
They all really felt proud of her, they felt that she worked for all their people, they felt that she needed honouring; some of them felt that she was bigger than the Catholic church and she needed more than to just be included with Ted [Father Ted Kennedy]; that her biggest role was in visiting divided families, visiting people locked up in prison, relaying letters and messages back and forth and getting people services they needed or medications that they needed, bringing people to funerals from wherever, where people had died in custody or somewhere else. So she was [a] social worker for all of her people. And it wasn’t just all her people; there were also old, white derelicts she might find that she would also bring, to put a roof over their head. She was just interested in anybody who had a problem with authority and the rules and the system and she was interested in making their lot better in a very immediate, practical way. When she’d had her own home, it was full of mattresses up and down the halls everywhere; wherever she’d find people needing, she would bring them in. And I just found this same story repeated of Mum Shirl giving herself to whoever was there basically, as a mother. Apparently she got the ‘Mum Shirl’ title because of going into prisons and asking to see somebody that she heard was locked up there, and they’d say “Well, who are you?” and she’d just say “I’m their mum”.