My Place: James Henderson

James Henderson Photo: Damjan Janevski

Altona’s James Henderson’s art is heavily influenced by his Finnish background. He speaks with Goya Dmytryshchak.


What’s your connection to Hobsons Bay?


I’m the sixth generation of my family to live in Hobsons Bay. I think Altona is a little bit like Hanko, down south of Finland. My family came in 1906 – the Finnish side of the family. I volunteer with the Finnish Society of Melbourne [based in Altona], the Friendly Visiting service for the elderly Finns in and around Melbourne. I help out with Louis Joel [Arts and Community Centre] … I just help whenever I can around the place.


What do you love about Altona?


Location. It’s got everything. Where I live in particular, it’s right opposite the park, the beach, close to the trains, library. Everything’s in walking distance, it’s great.


What would you change?


I don’t think there’s anything I don’t like.


What’s your favourite cafe or eatery?


Norfolk, because they put a lot of effort into their food and it’s a reasonable price, friendly staff and in a great area.


Why is this an important year for the local Finnish community?


Finland turns 100-years-old – it’s 100 years of independence. This year, the Finnish Society in Melbourne is having gala dinners and many parties and activities. We’ve got the Easter Games, which gets selected to different states each year – it’s like a mini Olympics for Finnish games – and they’re going to be in Altona.

You’re an artist who has been in the Army Reserves, the CFA and done so much volunteering. You seem so busy …


I have a very big bucket list. In 2008, I was diagnosed with cancer and that quickly turned into stage four, so I was lucky to finish high school.

Since then, I took two gap years as a break and I wasn’t doing anything, so I took up firefighting … in the CFA up in Harcourt. I’ve just been doing random things since. I’ve even done fencing, line dancing, martial arts, sailing … and I’ve still got a big bucket list.


Can you tell me about your art subject matter?


I grew up with mum almost every week telling me, ‘Oh, we come from Finland, it’s a cold country and it’s dark and it’s like Russia, kind of’.

And I just imagined this total dark wintry snowy place with onion domes everywhere.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve been aiming to go, [but] uni and all that’s happened and I’ve never quite got the opportunity.

So, my animation was for the Scandinavian Art Show a few years ago and it’s titled something in Finnish which translates as ‘One Day’.