WARNING: Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander viewers are warned that the following may contain images, story and voices of deceased, by and about persons. Discretion advised.
21 July 2021 // Lois Olney
Lois Olney ( -) is a Ngarluma artist, actress and jazz singer. She was born in her mother's country at Roebourne, in the Pilbara region of Western Australia. Her father was a Yamatji man from Meekatharra.
Lois was always told her mother had put her up for adoption, but a note scrawled on a pie wrapper and passed to her while singing on stage gave the first inkling she was stolen as a baby.
She had been adopted by the Olney family, with her adoptive father being Howard Olney who went on to become a state Labor politician, and then a Justice of the Supreme Court. Like Lois, her adoptive parents had been told an Aboriginal woman had put her baby daughter up for adoption.
Her Perth family, always told her she was from Roebourne, and they never kept that hidden.
Lois' love of singing and music began at a young age. She regularly attended singing lessons, and started performing at a young age. She started singing down in Fremantle when I was 13, in restaurants and in her later teenage years, Aboriginal author and painter Josie Boyle introduced Lois to Raymond Long who was Shirley Bassey's musical director in the 1960s. He was a classical pianist but also had an incredible talent for teaching opera. The opera training took Lois's talent to a new level, but it was a genre that didn't sit right. It was at this time, aged 13 she first heard a Billie Holiday recording and found the inspiration that would guide her singing career.
Lois didn't often contemplate her birth family while growing up in Perth and developing her singing career. And then a pie wrapper revealed the missing half of Lois's life. The message came from Lois's aunty who recognised the family resemblance and realised the young Aboriginal jazz singer must be baby 'Brenda', taken from her sister in the Pilbara town of Roebourne more than 20 years earlier.
"It was my aunty and an incredible amount of family, which is the majority of Roebourne, that I've found from that pie wrapper," Lois told Hilary Smale on North West WA Mornings. The message Lois received on the pie wrapper urged her to return to her birthplace of Roebourne on the Pilbara Coast in North Western Australia as her birth-mother was seriously ill.
Tragically, by the time Lois travelled the 1,500 kilometres north to Roebourne, her mother had died. But a wealth of family remained in the old Pilbara gold rush town. "[It was] a bit scary, but incredibly rich with love and acceptance because I was gone for so long. It was overwhelming the amount of love they'd saved for me."
In 1998 Lois recorded a CD of jazz standards and originals, Red Earth - Blue Sky with a variety of musicans who have accompanied her during her career. She also acted a lead role in the ABC Telemovie 'The Coolbaroo Club'.
A true songstress, she spoke to where she draws the depth of her emotion in her music “I’m from the stolen generation so I’ve had a few tragedies in my life, where I lost my brother through death in custody and a lot of adults in my family and friends of mine that have gone through the missions. So, I have a lot of empathy for a lot of the people that are stolen generation, so I write a lot in sympathy that is becoming to people’s feelings."
Lois resides in Fremantle, Western Australia. She continues to sing jazz and blues, and paints.