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:
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.