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NAIDOC Week: Photojournalist keeps focus on ‘black perspective’ in life looking through the lens #australia #australia_news #ABC_News #Just_In


Updated

July 12, 2018 08:16:17

At sporting events, political announcements and community gatherings across the country, you can often find Aunty Barbara McGrady in the crowd, jostling for position, adjusting focus and snapping the key moments from her “black perspective”.

She is Australia’s first female Aboriginal photojournalist and has spent her life documenting the challenges, successes and hardships of Indigenous life.

As a young Gomeroi woman, Ms McGrady eagerly consumed magazines thick with prints by prized photographers.

While in awe of the shots of inspirational black faces, she soon realised the lack of Aboriginal faces in the media around her.

“I was lucky to read incredible magazines given to my father like Life magazine, Esquire, National Geographic, Readers Digest,” she said.

“I was pretty surprised to see great black-and-white images of black people like Muhammad Ali, James Baldwin — all the old black resistance fighters, and incredible black sports men and women.

“I was fascinated by these deadly black people, who they were and how they became these great people.

“But I never saw any magazines that depicted black [Australian] people.

“There were none that I saw in my early days growing up in the 1950s, 1960s.”

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander readers are advised this story contains images of people who have died.

A black perspective

Ms McGrady’s love for photography began when she was a teenager growing up in Mungindi, bordering New South Wales and Queensland.

“My mother bought me a camera when I was 15,” she said.

“I loved growing up in a small country town; even though there was lots of problems and racism, I felt safe in my big family.

“So I started photographing the world around me — my mob, my immediate family, my friends, the landscape — everything and anything.”

After moving to Sydney in the 1970s, Ms McGrady completed a sociology degree at the University of Sydney, a period she regards as crucial to her continued documentation of its inner-city Indigenous communities and the events that define them.

Her viewpoint was often dismissed, but that only fuelled her determination to make her voice heard.

“I remember when first going to university and telling people I was studying black sociology, they’d tell me ‘there is no such thing as black sociology’.

“But that’s how I saw my world, that’s how I related to everything around me, that’s how I related to the colonised view.”

The 1970s was a time of enormous change, not just for Ms McGrady but for many urban Aboriginal communities.

The Indigenous rights movement began to gain momentum and the establishment of the first Aboriginal legal and medical services heralded a significant step toward self governance.

Ms McGrady said the strength shown by close-knit Aboriginal communities was still not lost on her today.

“I’ve seen a lot of changes. I was here in the early ’70s when there was the Black Power movement, black determination of our organisations, black resistance.

“I’ve seen it all evolve from that resistance to the fight for our rights.”

Twice overlooked

Ms McGrady said she liked to document things going on around her, “big important events that I see that have an influence or some kind of connection for our mob”.

Whether it’s capturing the athleticism and cultural pride of the NRL’s Indigenous Round, documenting the passion of Dreamtime at the G or snapping the mental and physical toll of a boxing world title fight, her dedication and enthusiasm remains the same.

“I looked at what was happening around me and related all this to my black life, and my black existence. I saw everything from that black perspective, I can’t see it any other way.

“I shoot NRL, AFL, title fight boxing, basketball, but my main thing is documenting important, significant historical events that are important to Aboriginal Australia.

“That’s how I see how our history — that’s how I see my own.”

As a woman, infiltrating a profession initially dominated by white men was quite a feat.

But Ms McGrady said being an Aboriginal woman was yet another impediment.

“In society, women have been omitted from different parts of mainstream society. They aren’t included.

“I think being a black woman is another burden, because you’re twice overlooked as a woman and a black woman.”

In 2014 she was the inaugural winner of the Anthony Mundine Award for Courage, presented at NSW Parliament House as part of the National Indigenous Human Rights Awards.

‘Because of her, we can’

This year’s NAIDOC Week theme, “Because of her, we can”, looks to showcase the pivotal role Indigenous women have played in our lives, whether as leaders, trailblazers, politicians, activists or a friendly shoulder to lean on in times of need.

It is these traits Ms McGrady has delicately captured for her latest exhibition, Deadly Women of Redfern.

Local community members are a focal point of the display, which puts a spotlight on women whose contributions have often been overlooked or are unseen by wider society.

“This exhibition focused solely on women of Redfern and women who have that deep-seated Redfern connection,” she said.

“Redfern is something special because of its self-determination, the Block in the ’70s — it’s where it all happened.”

While her photography is undeniably compelling, Ms McGrady said it was her “Aboriginal eye” that enabled her to capture the story behind the image.

“Mainstream photographers, they don’t have my eye, they don’t have my community connection.

“They don’t see what I see when I look through a black lens. I think they miss quite a lot of history that’s important to our mob and I think that’s a sad thing.”

And Ms McGrady said she hoped there was a keen young photographer who could continue the work that she had done.

“I’d love for someone to see what I see and have the same kind of passion and interest and want to record our mob’s history, but sadly I haven’t found that person yet.

“I have had a few assistants but nobody that really, really wants to do what I do.

“I see it as having a job that is also your passion and your love; that’s how I look at it and I’m really lucky to be doing what I do.”

Deadly Women of Redfern is being held at the National Centre for Indigenous Excellence in Redfern.

Topics:

photography,

indigenous-aboriginal-and-torres-strait-islander,

aboriginal,

indigenous-culture,

arts-and-entertainment,

community-and-society,

people,

human-interest,

sydney-2000,

redfern-2016

First posted

July 12, 2018 07:30:47



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