After 200 years: photographs of Aboriginal and Islander Australia today, 1988
In 1988–89 Michael Riley was one of a number of Indigenous and non-Indigenous photographers who travelled to Indigenous communities around the country to work with and document people as a direct response to the bicentennial in 1988. The 1988 bicentenary of the European settlement of Australia was also a catalyst for reconciliation efforts and recognition of Indigenous rights, achievements and new creative endeavours. This massive undertaking documenting Aboriginal Australia commenced in 1985 and aimed for real community engagement. Participating photographers engaged with Aboriginal communities following strict cultural protocols. Of the 21 photographers assigned to the project, only Kathy Fisher, Alana Harris, Ricky Maynard, Polly Sumner, Tess Napaljarri Ross, Helen Napurrula Morton, Peter McKenzie and Riley were Indigenous.
Riley worked with another Aboriginal photographer, Alana Harris, visiting the country communities of Leeton in New South Wales and Robinvale in Victoria. Of the hundreds of images he took a number were published in After 200 years, some of which were subsequently acquired by the National Gallery of Australia. These were included in the travelling exhibition Retake: contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander photography, organised a decade later by the National Gallery of Australia.
Robinvale and Leeton are two small country towns, 250 kilometres apart, which share a common economic history. Both towns grew around the fruit picking industry and the introduction of irrigation in the early years of the twentieth century. Robinvale is in northwest Victoria, located on the Murray River 90 kilometres southeast of Mildura … Robinvale stands on Latje Latje land.
I was the first Aboriginal to come here to live, then my father and my brother came, then my sister, Mrs Jean Sampson and Beverley Childs. We had nothing much when we first came here, no tent or anything, and the police from Robinvale came down and pitched a big tent for us, down on the banks of the river. We was just the one family to start with, then they had the tin huts just down from the bridge. There was Mrs Emily Morgan, Lee Curvey, and Bob Egan who runs the Co-op now. I was born in Balranald and my mother and father were South Australians but we used to travel through this area for the [fruit] picking We used to ride to town in a horse-drawn caravan, it was very good too, nice and cool inside, and we’d go from Balranald to Mildura and Swan Hill for the picking. In the old days, there were none of these farms along the river like there are now. Nothing was here, not even the houses, we used to drive right through to the river’s edge.
The elders: Indigenous photography in Australia
The 1988 bicentenary of the European settlement of Australia was also a catalyst for reconciliation efforts and recognition of Indigenous rights, achievements and new creative endeavours. It provided the impetus, as well, for curatorial projects such as the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies photography commission, After 200 years.
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