The Story

SURVIVORS is a story of respect and of acknowledgement. Of love. Regret.  Dignity. Occasional sadness. Of validation. But mainly it’s about the people who participated and what they stood for – what they stand for to this day.

Telling that story became my life’s work. Before the project I might have even boasted about how well I understood Aboriginal people; about their lives, their experiences and struggles. After all, some of my best mates are Aboriginal. We grew up together. I knew as well anyone, right? Surely. In 1986, my parents moved me and my brothers from Newcastle to Wellington. I grew up playing sport. That’s just what you do in a small country town.

The irony is: when we were all little, I don’t really think any of us felt too different from each other. We laughed at the same jokes and liked the same food and got up to the same mischief. There’s a certain innocence you get with youth. Before long, I was grown up. At university, I couldn’t believe some of the things I heard people say, how ignorant they were.

Most people I found relied on the media to inform their views on Aboriginal Australia. I gradually came to recognise the establishment’s casual racism and the mainstream’s colonial disdain. It unsettled me. That was 2001. My passion for photography was born in Newcastle in 2004. I began noticing the perfection that bathes every moment. The silence. The moments in between. Their composition. Their godliness. I breathed it with every breath. And I learned how to capture it as a moment in time.

In 2007, I moved to Sydney to pursue a career in abstract photography. By 2008, I was represented by Sara Roney Gallery, in Paddington. At the end of 2009, during a conversation with my mentor and Arthere Creative Producer, Sandy Edwards, I explained to her how Wellington was an area I wanted to document.

Sandy’s words have stayed with me to this day: So when are you going to start? Two weeks later I was in Wellington. Searching. A chance encounter, spiked with fateful inevitability, guided me headlong into a conversation with renowned Wellington hard man, Jamie Stanley. It was he who introduced me to the first Elders of the SURVIVORS project.

My journey had begun. I approached each yarn attentively, building trust bit by bit. I knew I had no choice but to offer what lay deepest in my heart. I allowed the Elders to feel who I was for themselves; where I was coming from. I was humbled. They could tell – and they held me in the palm of their hand.

I remember feeling present during these conversations in a way I’d never felt before. I focused on the words; every last flourish and inflection. There was such stillness, yet such movement and colour. I could see the frames with every breath. These people were telling me their story.

Namina Road

I reflected on my own family and realised how different our stories actually were. Yet my family history is also central to the project. Now in 2015, all of my life’s influences have flowed into the SURVIVORS. Both my parents are schoolteachers. Both my grandparents on my father’s side worked for the Australian Inland Mission during the 40’s and early 50’s, in Brewarrina, Mendinee and Woorabinda.

There’s a symmetry I can’t ignore between their experience and my yearning to learn about the Wellington Aboriginal community, and its own mission,  Nanima. And there’s a didactic quality to my work too – I’m determined to educate the non indigenous about what life is, and what it always has been for the people from Binjang of the Wiradjuri Nation. My oldest mate Damien Kelly played a huge role in the development and roll out of SURVIVORS. He never let up reminding me how important this work was. I often wondered where he found the energy! I couldn’t have completed the project without him – he held me to a higher level of accountability than that to which I could hold myself. I’d often speak to his mum, Denise, for invaluable advice on culture and protocols.

SURVIVORS is my humble tribute to the Wellington Aboriginal community – the kindest, wisest community I’ve ever known. The biggest thing I’ve learned is just how little I still know – and how anxious I am to find out more. SURVIVORS only scratches the surface of one community, amongst 500 Nations. How much do you know about Aboriginal Australia? Pull back the covers and take a peek. It might change your life.