There’s a hum in the foyer of the small-town cinema. Clumps of people are chattering excitedly. Today’s screening was no ordinary film, but a heartfelt documentary about how those forced to live on the fringe became the heart of a town.
Today’s patrons are no ordinary moviegoers, but family and friends with a shared past – one that has now been preserved forever in film.
A young woman is crouching on the floor next to a red velvet lounge, leaning against the armrest and listening intently to a local elder who’s gesturing wildly with his walking stick.
Grandmothers are proudly introducing their grandchildren to distant aunts and uncles. But amid the buzz, two women are in a world of their own, clinging to each other like they never want to let go.
“This was a monumental day for me,” explains Elly Chatfield, one half of the pair.
“This is the first time that I got to meet my sister in forever.”
Her eyes glisten as she tells me her story.
Elly never knew she had a sister named Rayola. Stolen from her mother when she was just over a year old, she’d known very little about her family. When Elly was 38, she went to find her father. Her mother, however, had passed away. For more than a decade she struggled to find any in-roads to her mother’s side of the family - until a visitor from the small northern New South Wales town of Tenterfield travelled to her home in the Blue Mountains.
Helen Duroux found herself in the Blue Mountains while working on a documentary about a fringe camp on the outskirts of Tenterfield. Through mutual friends, she and Elly crossed paths. Elly looked strangely familiar to Helen, and the conversation soon turned to family.
“I asked her, who’s your mob?” recalls Helen.
“That’s when we found out that she actually was an extended part of our family.”
For the first time in her life, Elly was able to hear about the mother from whom she’d been taken.
“I was the first person she’d ever met that actually knew her mother, so we were both doing this goosebumpy, crying thing,” Helen says.
“I’m getting goosebumps just talking about it!” She rolls up her sleeve as proof.
Elly learned she had a sister, Rayola Binge, living about 9 hours north in Tenterfield. Armed with their new knowledge, Elly and Helen made a plan: Elly would travel to Tenterfield for the screening of the documentary to meet Rayola for the first time.
On the day of the screening, Helen pulled Rayola aside and said she had a surprise for her.
“She was expecting a present, but it was me!” Elly laughs.
“She didn’t know I was coming so it was a surprise,” she says, now standing arm-in-arm with Rayola at the Tenterfield cinema.
“Yeah it was!” Rayola agrees.
She leans over to kiss Elly’s cheek.
“We’re just two baby sisters.”
The two women look at each other and laugh, before walking away.
Later I see them sitting on a bench outside, still clinging to each other like they’ll never let go.