Aunty Cheryl Penrith has a story to tell – several in fact – as she reflects on her journey as a Wiradjuri woman and now an elder in the Wagga Wagga community.
“My message is about not waiting until something catastrophic happens in your life before you start doing the things that you love,” she says.
Aunty Cheryl is preparing for her second live show with the Voices of Women project after stepping well outside her comfort zone last year.
“When we did the performance at the art gallery, my mum, my son, my daughter-in-law and my grandchildren were there as well as some family from Griffith and friends from Wagga,” she explains.
“It was really liberating.”
This year, working with the theme of ‘Embellishment’, Aunty Cheryl will be joined by performers Saasha McMillan and Haya Arzidin and composer Elizabeth Jigalin to share their stories amid the Archibald Prize exhibition at the Wagga Art Gallery.
“Embellishment is a storytelling and performance program which begins with workshops where we invited women to come along and share their story,” explains the artistic director of Voices of Women, Lliane Clarke.
“From that workshop they create some short monologues or short stories in the first person, which they then present at the live show.
“What we’ve discovered through the workshops in Wagga is an incredible strength of community around creativity and sharing and connecting.”
The stories range from comedy to crisis and everything in between, and for Aunty Cheryl, it’s about authenticity.
“They’re my own story. Something that happened to me,” she says, explaining that last year she shared a spiritual experience that followed a car accident.
As she began looking into insurance claims and examining the site of the crash on Google maps, she noticed an eerie familiarity.
“A few weeks earlier, Mum had painted this painting and I was looking at it and I said, ‘What’s that?’ and she said, ‘When you get to the end of the road, the spirits will save you’.
“When I have a look down at these roads she’d done, where I’ve hit this barrier is where Mum has painted these little bloody spirit faces!”
For Aunty Cheryl, it was a reminder that the women in her life were looking out for her even when she did not realise it.
She also shared the story of her “transformation” after losing her husband a decade ago.
“There’s a Wiradjuri word that is ‘Wundirra’ which means to stand strong in your own light,” Aunty Cheryl says.
“And that’s the philosophy I’ve taken on in my life and I tell people about that.
“We’ve only got one life and we have to do the things that we want to do.”
EMBELLISHMENT: Infinite Possibilities in the Definition of Self is on at the Wagga Wagga Art Gallery on Thursday 16 March and you can find out more here.