Lolita was born on the Negros Occidental island of the Philippines archipelago. She grew up close to the sea, and loves the sound of the waves still. She was part of a large extended family, and grew up speaking the local language Ilonggo, Tagalog (national language of the Philippines) and English at school. Lolita’s mother was a very good cook: often dinner was a Filipino style spaghetti bolognese, seafood, fresh vegetable and curries. As a child, Lolita often went ‘fishing’ for mussels, clams and pipis.
In 1985 Lolita met her partner (“my sweetheart”) of 32 years, the Australian artist James Egan and she came to Australia a year later. James was already a well-known artist at the time; one of his paintings was given by the Australian Government as a wedding gift on behalf of the Australian people to Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1981, while other paintings have hung on the walls of Buckingham Palace, the White House, the World Trade Centre and the Russian Parliament. In 1986, the Victorian Government recognised James’s contribution to art by naming him a Living Treasure in Perpetuity.
Lolita came directly to Bungaree where James had his art gallery. She helped him run the gallery in Bungaree for 20 years, after which they re-located the gallery to Addington.
When Lolita came to rural Bungaree in 1986, she found it beautiful dairy and potato farming country, very green and lush. She said people used to ask her if she was lonely and she replied: “You make your own happiness. I had freedom, I could go anywhere I wanted, James always gave me the freedom to choose if I wanted to stay or go.”
James and Lolita used to travel the countryside, driving as far up as Queensland (James used to have a gallery in Surfers Paradise), exploring New South Wales, Victoria, South Australia, and all the way up to Alice Springs in the Northern Territory.
James painted Lolita often, she was his muse, he said. He enjoyed her cooking too. His favourite dish was Lolita’s Chicken Arroz Caldo (chicken soup with rice – try out her recipe here). A close second was Chicken Adobo (a signature dish of the Philippines, often cooked with pork, click here for the recipe).
Lolita and James had a daughter, Jasmin, who currently lives in the Philippines, working as the Protocol Officer for President Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines. Lolita says to her daughter, “Dad would be very proud of you.”
James died in July 2017 from prostate cancer.
Lolita felt very lonely after James’s death. She felt “everything had stopped…”. She had always loved meeting people and talking to everyone she met: “I love to talk!” She continued to run the gallery but visitor numbers had dropped off.
So, one day Lolita decided she would become a volunteer so that she could re-engage with people. In 2018 she started volunteering with Visit Ballarat and became involved with the Biennale. A few months later she met a Filipina friend for coffee who said she was going on a Bus Trip to Geelong with other friends from the Ballarat Regional Multicultural Council. Lolita was curious and came along shortly after to her first BRMC monthly Multicultural Tucker.
After attending two Tucker Lunch events, Lolita applied to volunteer with BRMC in the Social Support Team. She became busy with supporting a range of events for BRMC Seniors – everything from bus trip to lunches, health and wellbeing days, social hub and exercise programs. She said she started feeling happy again, and valued and recognised for her contribution by staff, other volunteers and the Seniors who attended the programs.
Lolita continues to run the art gallery, look after her animals (3 hens, 2 dogs and 1 cat), work in her garden growing fruit, vegetables and lots of flowers, check in on her friends, and always makes time to volunteer and help out whenever she is asked.
Lolita welcomes visitors to the James Egan Gallery: www.jamesegangallery.com.au
Try these delicious Filipino recipes at home: