Category Archives: Photography

Rusty Stewart-Flickr Page-Diversity of Indigenous Australians

Rusty Stewart is a photojournalist and videographer with many years news and current affairs experience working for national and international newspapers, news agencies and magazines.More recently he has also focused on Community Cultural Development work within Australia for NGO’s, often with indigenous communities. Employers have included the Fred Hollows Foundation, The Torch Project, ICRC, and Amnesty International among others.

Over the last five years he has led documentary film and stills projects to deliver outcomes with the Yolngu and Jawoyn communities of Arnhem Land, the Barkindji communities of Northwest Victoria the Gunditjmara communities of Southwest Victoria, and the Ngaanyatjarra Communities in the western deserts of Australia. His full collection can be found on his Flickr page:

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The images captured by Rusty in this album demonstrate the diversity of Indigenous people in Australia. The collection of images is a realistic depiction of the different groups spread across the land, each with their own ways of living, culture, traditions and language. There is a danger that current policy interventions take a whitewashing view of what is actually a heterogeneous population. Images that just focus on the hardship and low quality of life experienced by indigenous people living in remote communities, (such as Ingetje Tadros’ Kennedy Hill photographs) can be used as propaganda to legitimise assimilation policies. Rusty Steward includes photographs of the variety which is key to understanding the differing experiences of indigenous people.

Some of the photographs in the Flickr collection were taken in Utopia, a remote community in the Northern Territory of Australia. Utopia has been identified by one study to have have ‘unexpectedly good’ health, Rowley et al identified that  all cause and cardiovascular disease mortality rates were 40% to 50% lower than the NT average for Indigenous Adults. These results were unexpected given the wide spread poverty and unemployment. Anderson and Kowal (2012) argue that a combination of specific historical and social factors such as relatively late colonial occupation, intercultural practices associated with the pastoral industry , the absence of mission or government settlement, the persistence of small decentralized communities and  the individuals personalities and histories of those connected to utopia have all contributed to the unique conditions. Rowley et al argued therefore that conventional socioeconomic measures such as income, employment and education neither explain the improvements to health nor can they be used as a universal measure of well being in the indigenous context.  This example demonstrates the need for further anthropological study of indigenous communities; if Rowley et al’s 10 year study of Utopia revealed the need for a more targeted and appropriate understanding of the local factors it is likely that similar studies in communities elsewhere would reveal other locally contingent histories that determine well-being. Therefor a ‘one size fits all’ policy approach must be reviewed.

Tourist Australia: Tjapukai Aboriginal Cultural Park

The following images are from my own trip to Australia in 2013. I had been in Cairns in Queensland for 2 days and my travel companions suggested we visit a site of ‘indigenous cultural interest’….


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In some ways this image of the boat is a metaphor of the whole experience…

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Having already seen and heard widespread racist attitudes towards indigenous people in the town (being told not to walk down certain streets or make eye contact) I was hesitant about buying into a exploitative tourist attraction.  Despite my reservations I went along and as I had expected the experience was a kind of twisted ‘Aboriginal’ Disney land, the epitome of  Said’s orientalism where white people with their phones and cameras oggled at the ‘strange customs’ of the ‘savages’ bare-chested and covered in body paint who performed dances and music and then proceeded to include the tourists in boomerang throwing and other activities. The fetishisation of traditional cultural practices of indigenous people present in this cultural park fed into the  dichotomic paradigm inherent to the orientalist ideology (West/East; modernity/tradition; civilised/barbaric, linear/circular etc.)

It is true that this was their day job, these people lived in the local area and commuted to the park, their role was a kind of acting which in itself one might argue is not exploitative if they are earning a fair wage. However, if we look at this in the wider context of racism towards indigenous people and the challenges in employment and welfare provisions, we see these  job roles differently. It could be argued that through the structural violence enacted on indigenous people their opportunities for employment are limited and therefore so are their choices, resulting in them working in a place that exploits and commodifys their cultural heritage for the entertainment of the ‘white man’.

Photojournalist Ingetje Tadros documents indigenous life in Kennedy Hill WA

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Photojournalists would argue that their coverage and its graphic nature is motivated by a philanthropic attempt to shock the average person into taking notice of the horrific  conditions in which people live  in the  hope that by viewing these images, people may be compelled to provide aid and support to those effected most by the tragedy. However it could be argued that this dehumanises the people in the photographs. Those who are depicted, who have been directly effected by the situation  itself, may not see this as an attempt to garner attention for support to improve their well being, but rather an attempt at  creating ‘victims’ exploiting the event in order to boost sales of news papers and increase viewership of news programs. (Loprinzi 2012)  In this case the indigenous people depicted in these images, apparently  living in states of squalor and abject poverty, are actually a sensationalist form of orientalism, constructing indigenous people as the  ‘other’, whitewashing their experience and removing their voice and autonomy.

However the images are successful in conveying a sense of polarisation and contrast; of the assimilation into the globalised western world and the conflict and difficulty with which it is experienced by indigenous people, making starkly obvious the failings of the assimilation policy in improving indigenous well being. I would argue however that by including  images such as the ‘no alcohol’ signs and children living in squalid conditions it perpetuates the  stigmatisation associated with the intervention policy.(Cala 2013)