Re-take Artist's Talk, Mervyn
Bishop (introduced by Kelly Gellatly), National Gallery of Australia,
Saturday 17 October 1998
Hello, everyone, I'm Kelly Gellatly, the curator of Australian Photography here at the Gallery. Welcome to Re-take: Contemporary Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Photography. Now, I will just give you a very brief overview of the exhibition today because our star attraction is Mervyn Bishop, whos going to speak to us about his work; so I will really will just give you an in-road into the exhibition itself.
This exhibition is drawn from the collection of the National Gallery of Australia, and I think shows very clearly that we've been collecting the work of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander photographers for quite a while now. It really is a brief ten year history, if we exclude Mervyn's work; of course, it's in the show, but it's outside of that timeline and I think that's because Mervyn, and he will tell you all more about this himself, is a press photographer who started with the Sydney Morning Herald in 1962; so in a way he was working very much outside of the art world that, with photography, tends to separate different types of practice. Mervyn was included in the first exhibition of the work of Aboriginal photographers in 1986, which was held at the Aboriginal Artists Gallery in Sydney, and its, I think from that stage, although there were obviously people who were aware of his work, but the art world tended to embrace his practice a bit more and, he was brought into the fold so to speak. So that's why his work pre-dates a lot of the work in the show. I think one of the most interesting things about this exhibition is the way that this, within this ten years of practice, there seems to be a divide in the type of work that's done, and this centres very much around, interestingly enough, the Bicentenary. You find that up to 1988 and particularly around that time when white Australia was celebrating its two-hundredth birthday, the camera was picked up by a lot of Aboriginal photographers and used as a means of protest; to show a different perspective to this celebration and also to counteract denigrating stereotypes that occur in photographic representation of Aboriginal people generally. And I think that's one of the things about the exhibition itself, is that every work in it's own way deals with the nature of photographic representation, and in dealing with it it actually harks backs to 19th century ethnographic photography, where Aboriginal subjects were photographed very much as curiosities, but they were also photographed as sort of scientific specimens in a way and were considered to be a dying race; so there was a real impetus to photograph and circulate these images for, you know, under guises that we wouldn't necessarily do today. So up to 1988 you find that a lot of the work is, the large majority of the work, is documentary in nature; so it's about getting a message across, and photography itself although it is a very important; for some of the artists it's more of a tool, it's not about making beautiful images, it's about getting that message out there and educating white Australia particularly, because these images were displayed in a context broader obviously than just an Aboriginal audience.
I could ramble on about this all day and I wont, I will just point out that this wall over here is from the After 200 Years project, which was a project that was initiated by AIATSIS [the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies] and funded through the Bicentennial Authority. And what After 200 Years aimed to do was actually turn documentary practice on its head so to speak, by sending a number of indigenous and non-indigenous photographers to different communities around Australia, and they worked within that community to photograph the people but the communities themselves had control of the images, and the text that accompany them. So when they were published it was very much a collaborative effort, and continues to be today because AIATSIS actually hold the negatives, and share copyright with the photographers, so the photographers actually have to go back to AIATSIS and say the way in which they want the images to be used today, and then if that's seen as appropriate, they're able to have access to their own negatives.
I might just speak a little bit about what happens after 1988 and then we'll hand on to Mervyn. Obviously it's not a clear divide, and documentary practice doesn't end, post-1988, and the work of Ricky Maynard later in the exhibition is an indication of one photographer that continues to work in this way. I should also say that Re-take doesn't aim to be comprehensive, its really a survey of the type of practice that has gone on from the 1980s into the 1990s and of course there are other indigenous photographers who are working.
Post-1988 as youll see, we tend to get a real explosion in a way, where the younger artists that are coming you know, that are coming to great prominence at this time, are no longer really interested in photography as a recording medium; and while theyre dealing with the same type of issues: Aboriginal identity, the sense of community, what it means to be an Aboriginal Australian, and they're investigating this in their work, they're doing it in a very different way. And as you'll notice from the work of Rea, which is probably the first and greatest indication of it, is that colour comes into increasing use, and a lot of the artists are tending to investigate the issues of representation in a far more personal manner. And there's an increasing appearance of the work of women, and artists such as Rea, Destiny Deacon, and to a lesser extent, Brenda Croft, are also picking up notions of gender and sexuality, and specifically representation of the black female body. So, I hope you get to come back after Mervyn has spoken to you and have a look around the exhibition, and if you have any queries please feel free to ask. Does anyone have any questions? OK, well I might hand over to Mervyn now.
Oh, I might start here. Thank you Kelly, it's lovely to be here, amongst friends and kind of my godson, and his wife, dear Helen. It's just lovely.
I started as a young kid in Brewarrina, interested in photography; some friends had access to, in those days, 35mm was the real going thing, to have slides and slide nights. One of the guys we knew he had a 8mm movie camera and that used to be good fun too, to watch the movies, but they'd only last about five minutes each little 8mm reel. And then another guy, he and his brother had, dark room equipment. They used to set up on the kitchen bench, use the kitchen sink, after they had had a feed, they would clear everything off and they would start processing film and doing prints. I remember the first time that I saw a print come up in the developer - it was just like magic, I thought "Oh, isn't this just wonderful", and it was, and I look back and I thought, I did see the print some years later, or one of those prints, and how bad it was; but it was the first one that I'd done, and I thought "This is just lovely, I've got to do this again", and I couldn't wait to go back and get into that dark room, and with all the bits and pieces and that, you get your hands in it, and the smell of it; it was just really intoxicating for me. That was something like in about 1957 I think; I was about twelve then. But I just loved it. And then, as I was getting along, Id, I used do little odd jobs, and I saved up some money and I bought a 35mm camera; a little Japanese range finder camera, cost me about 15 pounds, and my mother said, '"You bought that, what are you going to do with that", you know, and I said, "Mum", I said, "I'm going to take colour slides with this" - "Well, how are we going to look at them?" So, I had to work a bit harder to get a little projector, and I'd sit down there and just feed them in one at a time, but it was just so good, and I always dreamt about having more equipment, better equipment; I used to read all the magazines, and you know, just take it all in, and I was kind of obsessed by it. So, anyway, down the track I went to school, and I came to Sydney and I was working at the ABC, and some friends who worked at the Sydney Morning Herald knew that I was interested in photography, said "Well, would you like to go for an interview to become a cadet?", I said, Oh, okay, yeah", and so off I go and had a good interview and I thought, "Oh no chance, blah blah blah, that'll be that." About a week later they rang me up and said, youve got one. I went from, I went from, my wage then was nine pound ten, that's nineteen dollars a week, I had to pay board of five pounds a week, and then train fares, so I had about two dollars or three dollars to live on, like outside of my lunches and stuff. I walked everywhere. Anyway, at the Sydney Morning Herald it went up to about fourteen pounds, and I thought, "Oh, this is just heaven, oh, more money" and you know, I was able to get some clothes, look a bit flasher and all that stuff. But at the Herald we had a four year cadetship, and during that time you learnt to process film, mix chemicals, it was quite arduous, and wasnt in those days, the building wasn't, that part of the building wasn't air conditioned. Winter time it was freezing, summer time it was hot, steamy and sometimes we'd take, we'd just have a dust coat on, so we'd take all our other clothes off and just walk around in this dust coat, because it was so hot. The boss used to come round and say "Hey, what've you got under there boys, eh?", and we'd say "It's all right, it's all right". But down the track I went - I was in Sydney Tech, I started the technical course for photography, and I was in the first group to go through with that; and then I sort of got into general staff doing what you do in normal newspaper type work, and 1971 I took a picture around the corner, of the nun, with the child, the sick child, and it won me News Photographer for the Year, Australia. Ooh!, so I thought "Well, this is going to be good, get some more money, dah dah dah" - didn't happen. And I thought "Oh, this is a bit ordinary", so I thought "Oh, well maybe I wont jump up and down about it too much". In those days like Aboriginal Affairs was just coming into being, and I thought well, maybe there might be a job in there for me, if not in photography, in some other type of liaison-type work, or whatever. So in 1974 the job came up and I moved to Canberra. My wife and I moved down here in 1974, been here for about five years, and during that time I did a lot of travelling around Australia, to various parts of Australia, doing stuff for Aboriginal Affairs.
Went back to Sydney, there
til about 86 with the Sydney Morning Herald, since then I've been
doing sort of freelance work; did an Associate Diploma in Adult Education, to
sort of, I thought about teaching, and I was teaching photography at Tranby
College, Aboriginal College, and Eora, which is a part of TAFE that deals with
visual arts and craft. Since then I've just been doing a bit of freelance work.
In the meantime, things like galleries and the art world, which Id sort
of kind of stayed out of it really, because I thought it's not my type of area,
really. I was into more public relations, newspaper, magazine type work, and,
but you don't know these things; you know, I could have been doing all this
kind of stuff a long time ago. Yeah, hindsights always wonderful, isn't
it? But, anyway, I'm so pleased to be here, and you could come along. If youd
like to come around - I suppose everyone has seen the images around here. I'll
have a little bit of a talk about them.
This is at the Far West Children's Home in Manly [Far West Childrens Health Clinic, Manly 1968]. There was one of the press people had organised a kind of competition about pictures taken at the Far West Home - it was to do with promotion of children, people interested to donate money to the place. Anyway, I won a prize for that picture. The day I went over, I didn't mind to take the picture of a nurse with a syringe, a needle, squirting up a bit of juice out of a needle, with the kids looking at it, you know; anyway, she said "Oh, no, we don't give the kids any needles. If they need to it's sort of done really secretly", but so she said, "I'll pour out some syrup into a jar, into a measuring cup." So I got the guys to say well, they thought that they were going to get this, and they said "Oh, are we going to get this mate?", and I said "No, no, it'll be alright, it'll be alright". "Are you sure now?" And I said "It'll be alright, don't worry, don't worry", so I took a couple of pictures there.
This picture [Life and death dash 1971], I won News Photographer of the Year Award. A mother had bought the children into St Margaret's Hospital, we were on early morning, early morning shift, and we heard the call on the radio, so we zoomed around to St Margaret's, and waited outside. That, by the way, is part of the old Womens' Hospital in Crown Street. This is St Margaret's Hospital here, and we waited there, and the mother bought the children out of the car, and we were sort of looking, and had my camera ready; and then the sister, don't think I've got her name here, she sort of went to pick up the child, and it sort of started to cry; so I just sort of stared like that and everything was set up and just bang! You don't really know that everything is right until you get back and process. However, the mother was very upset, because I was there taking pictures. She left the pill box open, so the kids could get at it, and she was escorted in by a motorcycle policeman, and I said, "Lady, don't worry about me, get your kids into hospital, hurry up", and the policeman said "Yes, he's right, come on". I said, "I'll help you carry them in", I was that sort of, I was worried about them. It seemed that they'd taken quite a handful of some bad drugs or whatever she had there. And coincidently, I've had a couple of phone calls, people have been sending me things about, "Mervyn, you've got a mention in an obituary", and I said, "What, what are you talking about, what are you talking about?" So, in the Sydney Morning Herald, in this obituary, there's that image that I'd taken then and there's a little bit about, a little bit about me, so anyway, just pass it around. But, and I said, "Well, no, no, no", and there's a story about this particular Sister, Sister Anne Burn, and she was quite a lovely person, and it goes on about her.
This image [Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into hands of traditional landowner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory 1975] sort of got greater and greater over the years. At the time, when I was working for Aboriginal Affairs, we were somewhere else and they said go to Wattie Creek, take the, Mr Whitlam is going there to, for a handover ceremony. So we got there, flew down from Darwin for the day; and it was a lovely day, people came in from everywhere for this occasion, and this picture here was taken, like, they had a ceremony, that was under a bough shed, by a big rock, and it's sort of way back there, it was all dark, it was pretty, pretty sort of, oh, that was the spot; but as for an image to look good, I thought, well, we've got to get them outside in the sun, you know, sunlight with the blue sky it shows up better; you could put Time Life, you could put National Gallery with, you know, I could see it on the front cover of something. But Mr Whitlam was most cooperative, Mr Lingiari, he had like, trachoma, pretty hard to sort of see, so I had to lead him out a bit; given there was other photographers, other photographers were there too, cause they were, you know, shooting over your shoulder so, that's alright; but I did it, I got them out there, and it was nice, yeah.
Dennis Warren [in Films Officer Dennis Wahren with children from Redfern 1974], he was the Film Officer at Aboriginal Affairs. Some group of kiddies come down from Redfern in Sydney, for a bit of a look through the Department, and he was, he was running through some film that one of the other guys had taken on 16mm. This image [Sawmill workers, Cherbourg 1974], up in Cherbourg, up in Queensland, in Joh Bjelke-Petersen country, it's just up the road; but Cherbourg was quite a big government mission where a lot of Aboriginal people were, what, concentrated; it was, they had everything there, they had a sawmill, they had a bakery, they had shops, they the whole thing, but it was just for Aboriginal people. You could not get in there, you needed a special pass, and I, we, that was in 1974 I think, yeah 74. I needed a special pass to get in there. I was on like, Commonwealth Government business but, still, you still had to go through these, through this officialdom. And after that, in those days there was a thing known as the Act, the Queensland Act, that Queensland, Aboriginal people in Queensland, were, came under this Act. It was quite policed and they had the power to move people from place to place if someone was undesirable in one area, they had the right to transport them to another place. And, as well as that, on Cherbourg, they had their own sort of Aboriginal policeman. But it quite an eye-opener for me. By the way, the top Bronco, his family comes from there, what's his name, [response from the audience] the Centre, [Renouf?] that's him, that's his home town.
And then there's the other
image around the corner, called, I call that Is there an Aboriginal photography?
Whilst I was at college I did a, I wrote an essay, and called it "Is there
an Aboriginal photography?". It had to do with people taking pictures of
Aboriginal people, how I looked at it. I think Kelly might have a copy of it
somewhere, but it was published in a book called Race, Representation and Photography,
and it deals with a lot of issues that Aboriginal photographers had to deal
with, and white people taking pictures of Aboriginal people. It was thought
out by an academic from England, who was a photographer, a very good friend
of mine, Andrew Dewdney, who now works for the British Arts Council, and he
seems to be just locked up behind a, these days locked up in an office with
a computer, and it's driving him nuts, and he wants to come back out to Australia.
He's been out here a few times and we sort of co-teached at, taught, at Tranby
College. Tranby College, the other week, have just opened up some new, they
spent a couple of million bucks and put in some new teaching rooms; it looks
really good, so I would like to get back there and do some more work there,
I had this idea of the, the little, my daughter had a Barbie
doll or something like that, and little tiny camera, and I thought "Oh,
and that looks sort of", messing around in the mirror and I said, "Oh
that looks funny, it looks good, and so I set the camera up and did a few, you
know, self shots. Yeah.
Want to ask any questions anybody? Oh, my goodness, there's got to be someone.
I haven't said enough have I?
[question from the audience] So was that one there the pouring of sands ----------- set up or was it -------- [asking if Prime Minister Gough Whitlam pours soil into hands of traditional landowner Vincent Lingiari, Northern Territory 1975 was set up]
Set up. It was as set up as you could get. Yep, it was like it was happened over there, and it was, if you could image it was like a shed behind it and it was all dark, and Vincent was kind of blending into it a bit. I thought, oh, they did that, and then everyone was sort of starting to move around, and I said this is no good, come this way, out here into the sunlight. I've got another couple of shots with the Australian flag up here.
......pouring sands into his hand ..... [the same member of the audience asks if Vincent Lingiari was reluctant to participate in the symbolic gesture of pouring sands given that its become such a cliché in handback ceremonies]
It's OK, yeah. Yeah, yeah, um it wasn't, you know he wasn't sort of, hesitant about it; it sort of happened before, but doing it again and I said come out here, it's much nicer out here, and he said "Yes, that's okay". Yeah. But um
[another question from the audience]
Yeah, it's quite; it's really quite, you know, a symbolic act, to kind of handback, whatever. They do it all over the place, as you were saying.
Thank you for coming. Now, we've got a couple of slides downstairs in the lecture room; would you, like just to, these are some other types of pictures that I've taken; might take half an hour, maybe, if you'd like to
[Mervyn Bishop then moved from the exhibition space to another location to give a slide talk on more of his work]
We're back at Wattie Creek. The original image was taken on a two and a quarter square 120 film and, from that you can get a horizontal or vertical shot out of it. It's sort of interesting to think about these things when youre taking the pictures, because you know, you could run across a double spread on a page, or with the other one, as a vertical. I like the vertical. This was taken in just up the road at Red Hill. It was taken on 10 April 1976, the day my son was born, here in Woden Valley Hospital. The chap with the flag is Mr Thomas who designed that flag, The Flag. Next to him is Chicka Dixon, in his ... and next to him is Keith Smith, who's gone to God. The chap over, by the, next to, the flag, it was his house. He thought that the Embassy [the Aboriginal Tent Embassy] was not in good taste, so he said "You can have my house as an embassy, rather than a tent down in front of the Parliament House". But that didn't last too long, because a few little parties sort of happened there, and they moved on to other places. Harold Thomas, that's him, from South Australia.
This is at old Parliament House, James Galarrwuy Yunupingu, with Jeremy Long from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs, Silas Roberts and then Minister for Aboriginal Affairs, Ian Viner. They had these petitions from the Yirrkala people in Arnhem Land. I think that was one of the first petitions that sort of, it kind of, became recognised, but I don't know, I can't, I don't know enough about the politics and what really happened with it; but it did, it was kind of a precedent. Galarrwuy looks a little bit different there, than he does now, like we all do, no? Oh, the jacket, yeah! Jeremy Long, who worked in Aboriginal, who was like a Senior Secretariat, was he a Secretary?; he worked in South Australia as a Mountie, Field Officer. Yeah, Jennifer Bradley [a member of the audience], who was a Dubbo High School mate, worked in Aboriginal Affairs as well; so Jennifer knows these quite well. But Jeremy, one of his jobs was to round up Aboriginal people in the desert, because the Pommies were letting off the atom bombs out there. So he had to go out and sort of, and round them up, to get them away from these, the range. I mean, he did what he could and in doing so he sort of, he learnt the languages out there. He's written quite a lot. I saw a show about him revisiting those places, and how the people see him now as, you know, as somebody that kind of saved them from that stuff, and who knows how many perished, you know, out there.
A bit of yellow cake up at Jabiru, or Narbalek. I actually went up there to take pictures for the Government; got promoted, but that was my job. You know, I wanted a close up of it, and I said "I'd better take some of that stuff back to Canberra and show all the people", and the bloke said, "No, don't, don't bother, don't touch it, even", and I said, "Oh, okay". He said in that state like, as it was there, it's being a raw yellow cake, and it gives off radon gas, like, sniff it up and you'll probably get cancer straight away, just about. But the Aboriginal people in that area say that where that was, it was like a big sort of, just an area and solid full of it, and they call it Sickness Country; and they never ever stayed there, even animals would not stay there; they'd pass through it, they'd, it was kind of eerie. And the mining, or when they were doing the prospecting and stuff, they had taps dangling down out of back of trees, these tanks, so if anyone touched anything theyd go to wash their hands straight away. I was in a Land Cruiser, and the guy had a Geiger counter on the seat, and when you drive over the centre of where this site was, the Geiger counter was buzzing away, through the car; you know, you're in the Land Cruiser. And I said "Well, it must be a pretty bad stuff".
I went up to Arnhem Land to do some pictures for Dr Coombs; he done this Arnhem Land report and this is out the back of Maningrida, one of the full outstations or homeland centres. And I was quite, we were ready to leave and I saw this little emu walk across and Jack Bungiar he said, "That's Henry, that's Henry", "Oh, is it? Can I get a picture of you and Henry?" "Yeah, okay." So he sat down and the dogs came over, they thought they were going to get a feed, but it just sort of, that's the kind of place it is. That's just like summer, summer place in the winter or when the wet season is on they move across to the coast. But those bark huts, inside them, it's all paintings, they must, you know, just their like pick a pallih(?) and things off the ground to lay on, they just lay there and do these paintings. I've got some pictures of it somewhere; but I thought they were just, you know, strips of bark, but they're all, theyre like little art treasures. Getting onto housing: this up at Collarenebri in 1988. It was quite neat the little tin house. It had a television set in it, it wasn't dirty, everything was swept, it was, you know; comfortable, and up the top there, they've just built, in those days they'd just built, these new houses. Just a bit of a comparison. This little place is up at Crescent Head, I think there's a lot of stuff going on about a golf course going in there, and a resort, and the people don't want that to happen. It was, you know, it looks quite basic, but it was quite tidy, they had little gardens going, and you walk over the sand hills and youre on the beach.
This was also in 88, at Wilcannia. This lady, she was quite incapacitated and that was where she was staying. And I thought, "Oh, this is so bad"; like they call that The Sandhills, but prior to that there were other houses built but, she was sort of, like on the waiting list.
This is a place at, up near Kempsey, South Kempsey, I think. Burnt Bridge was the name of the place. But that was her house, this, that kind of a shed thing. It was in the morning, and looking back on it I thought I was a bit pushy on the day, and I said, "Look, this is bloody terrible, you know, you can't have this sort of stuff, living here like that", and I said "Well, can't you move into a house?", and she said, "Oh, we're on the waiting list". "So, do you mind if I take a picture?"; so I'd taken some pictures of her standing there and I thought, "Well I'll get a picture of her tossing the water out", and that's what I got. Now, you might see that cord running across there, that's live power. People are driving over it, kids are riding bikes through it; and I was, I said "What's that?", and she said, "Oh, that goes up to that other mob up there", and there was about four little caravans up the top running off that one piece of wire. Dangerous, deadly. There she is, smiling away.
Two bishops, Bishops Malcolm and Bishop (???) from up in the Torres Strait. This is when the Pope came out to Alice Springs. And there's another picture with me in it too, so, three bishops.
This lady, her name is Nakarra McKenzie, I think she comes from over at where the Argyle mine is now, but she was, I think she was, one of the traditional owners of that place. But she was a funny lady. I just had to get a picture of her.
On another occasion, here in Canberra over at Narrabundah, at the woolshed?, Narrabundah, Yarralumla is it?, the woolshed: they had an Aboriginal country and western turnout. Chicka Dixon and his flares, and Wandjuk, he'd come down from the Territory. I wished I'd had a pair of those pants. Eh! The pink ones!
This is also at --- Dorothy Randall from South Australia, she was, just like, dancing, like contemporary dance, like kind of different from Aboriginal dancing. That was at Narrabundah, Narrabundah Oval..
Bill Read from out at Bourke. I thought he look pretty flash, he had a nice jacket on with a bow tie; program. He used to be a shearer, he used to, my dad was a shearer also from out at Brewarrina, and he knew my dad.
Into corroborees, ceremonies, this is up at a place called Napranum, up near Weipa, in Queensland. Went up there to do some pictures of a, of a, I think you might have heard of a festival at Laura in Queensland - they have it every two years - and they are trying to do a similar thing on the west coast of Queensland. Kids love getting painted up, bright t-shirts, I thought, "Oh wow, they look so good". There's other pictures, but, for the moment.
This is a bunch of trainee teachers at Armidale Teachers' College about 1973, 4. I think out of it, [tape is turned over] that field. Bush Queen, Essie, Essina Coffie from Brewarrina; OAM, with her medal, see her medal there? She said, "If you're going to take a picture of me, boy, you got to get this medal on too, get this medal on. Put my hat on". In those days a lot of kids used to, gravitate to her place. That was 1988. Bush Queen
We go up now to Murray Island, I call this one The time of Mabo, because it was taken in that time, 1976. This guys fishing for sardines. The waters just black, its not, theres sort of sand under there, but thats all, just black with sardines. What do they get sardines for? In those days, they caught them, see the shed at the back?; they had turtles, they were sort of looking after turtles. This is to do with Applied Ecology, based here in Canberra, and the chap, David Cooper, who was the head of Applied Ecology, he was responsible for getting F-111s into Australia. He lived at Fort Worth for quite a long time, and then he went into this. I thought, "From -F111s to turtles?" And then was also emu farms, there was crocodile farms, yep. Could you live there? This was on Murray Island, just so nice.
Back to Dubbo, Gloria Ship, became the first Aboriginal priest. She was ordained in the Holy Trinity in Dubbo. Anglican? Yes.
These were copied off prints. I would have liked to have trans---(?) off colour negative to positive; haven't got that far yet, but we just had prints, so we just re-photographed them.
The chap in the middle is Warren Mundine, John's brother. Warren is a Councillor on Dubbo City Council. And you know, he dressed up for the day, and it was really a moving ceremony.
Now, cultural exchanges, the year that Peter Allen died, 19--, the boy from Oz. Anyway, the chap on the rights Johnny Bulun Bulun from outback of Maningrida. He's like an a accomplished artist, his stuff's all over the place. The Maningrida folk went across to South Sulawesi where the Macassan people sort of came from, and there on the other side of the island, they're still building these boats by hand; it was just amazing, they just chop it out with a little axe, and some little power saws. But and you know, the exchange between them and the Top Enders has just been going on for so long. There are something like about 300 words that are identical between the Macassans and Aboriginal people. They took over stuff for a ceremony and they made up this ceremonial pole, and I had the pleasure of working on that, winding the string around it and put a bit of paint on it; something to do. But, we had a nice time. They had special ceremonies, and some of the ceremonies they had to be painted up, and theyd start like say three o'clock in the afternoon, paint up for a ceremony at about seven; it just takes so long. [A question from the audience] Oh, I'm not sure. They were mixing, they were sort of grinding up ochre; they'd taken rocks and they were grinding up the rocks to make the colours. Here's John being welcomed some of the, one of the groups there. Bit of a contrast isn't it? Sorry - the tree, they'd cut the tree out, they'd gone somewhere and chopped that tree down and they painted it up and it was part of the ceremony. I went across there with them, and then I went back to Maningrida, and then they opened a football oval in Maningrida, and they performed a similar ceremony there. It was quite good, but really, when we got back to Maningrida it was quite hot in the day, it would have been really nice in the evening, but, they played Aussie Rules out there in the sun; one hundred degrees, whatever, and before they had just sort of finished in time to sort of walk, to go out and do their ceremony, and I said "Stop, I still want to get a picture of you now, before you go on, because when you get out there and start sweating, and all that stuff and start running", and so I sort of photographed the guys one by one as they were going out, and I mean they're like living works of art; it all represents, whatever. These could be a nice little set up there in the gallery somewhere, couldn't they?
Oh, getting back to art; this is Brambuk [Brambuk Living Cultural Centre], like an Aboriginal tourism stuff I was doing. It's like a cultural centre down in Fall's Gap, in Victoria; beautiful building. It won architectural awards. There's also a similar designed one out round Yulara. Come on in, come in and have a look at the slides - what's left of them. This is the manager [showing his tooth tattooed with the Aboriginal flag], he's got, see, he's got the flag, and instead of a little round bit, he's got a little star in there. I was looking at it, and I thought, "Gee, he's got a bad looking tooth there", and then, I sort of, I said, "Give us a look at that, I said, do you mind if I just get a close up?", and he said, "Oh yeah". [question from the audience] Oh yeah, its, it was put in by a dentist; yeah, it's not just a like a, hair line stick on thing; it's actually sort of, stuck in there, you know, coloured.
During that time I went down, I went across to Devonport for the day, and it rained, and it rained, and it rained. And there was a bit of a break in the day and I raced out, there's these carvings in the rocks at Mersey, Mersey Bluff. But that image of that design, it seems to be all around, and in the Mersey Bluff they've got a little gallery, a little Centre, a little shop; they've got displays. And we were going through here and looking at the pictures, and this guy said, "Look at these, these pictures are so fantastic", and I was looking at them, and he said, "Do you know who took em?", and I said, "I did - in 1974". I mean a couple of these people have died, but it was just sort of fantastic to go to this place and you know, watch the muttonbirders. Tough, tough and hard work; and lonely.
This is part of the tourism stuff out at Coober Pedy. Aboriginal people had interests in a couple of the mines out there, and you could go through on tours through it. But they'd come in with these fancy machines and they'd just run it through and it just chews out the rock. This is a piece of opalised shell, and they had whole clumps of it, like, like molluscs that have been opalised. I mean there was one bit was about as big as that speaker box, all of it, it was a clump of shells all opalised.
A place called Cape Leveque, north of Broome. It's kind of a resort, isolated, but it's really pretty. You can see the sunrise come up on one side of the Cape, and see the sun set on the other. Fantastic.
Out in the desert, a place out from Amata, where these rocks have something to do with the legend, the lizards or something or other. I just looked at it, and said, "Yeah yeah, tell me about it later, I've got to take some pictures". But just to give you an idea - the guy said these are like the scales of this animal, it looks like, sort of looks like scales.
This is at Redfern. I did some of these pictures for the Powerhouse Museum in Sydney. It was, it was in about 1991, I think. And it was then, they were talking about running Aboriginal people, youth into sport, blah blah blah as a, like idea that they were going to get the Olympic Games in Sydney. That was in 91, so I thought of going around to Redfern to the Tony Mundine Gymnasium and taking some pictures there. But that's the trainer, and some of the lads, getting em off the street. Tough little, tough little lads. This is Mr Wonderful, Anthony Mundine, Tony's son, who plays for St George; the guy that's been written up in the papers, slanderous, and court proceedings. Athlete, athlete, oh, gee. I saw the mirror there and I was trying to get speed ball going with, you know, with his reflection in it, and it took about ten shots. I mean to get the ball in the right spot, you know, you never know because its going so fast, and of course the flash freezes the action; but it did alright.
Oh, this is my son Tim. He's tall and skinny, he was going to school, he was a high jumper then. So I've got to put one in of him.
I did some work for, stills photography for, a couple of young Aboriginal short films. This is called Payback, about a guy in jail; he gets a jail term in white man's way and then he had to go back and face the proper stuff by Aboriginal people, like ceremonial spearing. And it was in the old part of Parramatta Jail; it was really spooky, and this guy in there dressed up, it was really, you know, "Oh God, got to get out of this place", you just felt funny about it. But it was all done in black and white, and he's come to look for this guy in the jail. Really good actor; we lost him one day, he didn't front in. Can't think of the chap's name. Then its sort of, like the vision, that he comes in, and has words with him in the cell; and that was in colour. I'd taken some colour, but most of it was in black and white. Then he gets out of the jail, then there's a ceremony and he gets speared, and thats, then everything's, the chief is satisfied that duty has been done - he's been paid back. It was a really good, good, it was a different thing, I've never sort of, that was the first one I'd sort of worked on, and working with a lot of, there was a lot of Aboriginal people in the cast and in the production. The chap with the black skivvy on is Warwick Thornton: he was the producer, director and he's also a very good cinema photographer [sic]. Sizing things up, waiting for the guy to come out of jail. Oh, and here he is with his light meter looking like a, Dirk Bogart. He says, "No, I'm not, I'm not!" You know, but I sort of look back and I thought yeah he does. So that was a couple of years ago.
Oh, cultural exchange - we've gone to China with Ellen José, who's got a couple of pictures in, down in this exhibition; across the Great Wall. Wherever we went there were lots of people, as you probably know. We went up to where the three gorges area in one of those, big boats. Now they're building these big dams there and there's a lot of, a whole lot of stuff going on with the flooding, and the people say that because they're building this dam that's why it's flooding. Could be some truth in it; but they had to move millions of people out of these areas - I just don't know how they did it.
Then, Ellen and I in Tienanmen Square. We were there at the anniversary, I think it might have been about the fourth anniversary of it. There was nothing sort of, I thought there might have been some kind, of little day about it, or little placard, saying you know, this is where it happened, blah blah blah; or a stick in the ground saying this is kind of, the time, but nothing. There were police everywhere, of course. That's the Peoples Hall, or something. I just, it was so, I'd never, I've never been to China or like overseas, you know, I'd never realised just how much, how many people around the place. He looked good, he looked good, that's Mao's mausoleum at the back. I thought "He's not a Chinaman, coming down the street", and the bloke said "Where?", and I said, "That bloke on the, he's pushed the bike down carrying this thing", and it looked pretty heavy too. That's his little truck, but it's hard to imagine the size of this place. And they, they fill it up with people a lot of the time.
We were up in, up in the gorges area where the legend of the boat races started, and they have a ceremony; but we went further up into where, the water was actually clear, and clean, and it was freezing. We were up, you know, a fair way into the hills, and these guys had this big long boat and they had a motor on it, but they'd had to pole it across the rocks. We were going up, upstream there. Care for a snack?; and we visited a, in Wuhan, it's just like Chicago in China, of this something chemical company, and it's a photographic business, and a lot of the stuff is wedding photography, weddings. People come in, they dress them up, they do the make-up and then they're photographed in, they either send someone out to the village or wherever, and get a few shots in the village. So it was good to see these guys working, you know, like that. Ah, I think he said in two days I think they go through something like five hundred, weddings, or a week; five hundred weddings, they go through this place. Yep. He was a teacher, she was a, worked in an office. Hes got his Ronald Reagan hat on.
Talking about photographers, this is, one Ive taken of Cecil Beaton, who used to be the photographer for the Royals; designer for movies. It was quite a funny day. I didn't know who he was; we'd gone over Admiralty House, over at Kirribilli and he was a guest of Lord Casey's. And I said, "We'll go out the back and take some pictures". "What do you mean out the back?", and I said, "Out in the backyard". "Oh, OK. What will I do?", and he was fidgeting and carrying on; I said, "Just relax will you, you're making me sweat". So we got underneath the tree, it was a sort of nice light, done a series of pictures. He actually smiled in a couple later on.
So, then, it was like a self portrait I'd taken a few years back, called Is there an Aboriginal photography. I wrote an essay, it's in a book called Race, Representation and Photography, I think it's still around, but it's a bunch of essays by Aboriginal people, photographers, people who are not Aboriginal taking pictures of Aboriginal people, so, and then there's quite a lot of academic stuff written by Andrew Duedney, but it's a real nice book. The Inner City Education Centre, which is in Sydney, they were the publishers. I asked the question, Is there an Aboriginal photography, and just looked in the Gallery here, and you've got it, so that answered the question.
Well, thank you very much.
So, any questions about that? Please, please! I mean, this is some of the stuff I've got together, but there's a whole lot of pictures that I've done for companies. I've worked for people like AGL, Caltex, just different private companies that, whatever; that've got the money to pay. It's you know, you've got to eat. But I'm living in Dubbo at the moment, and I travel to Sydney a bit to do work Ive that sort of, had connections with people over the years, and they still like me to do stuff. But I think I'll have to move back to Sydney, the way things are going, cause there's not enough of that type of work up there, unless I become a wedding photographer, which I don't think is a good idea at this time of life. I can do it, but oh, it's, it's; there's too much of it. Well, there's Helen's [in the audience] wedding too, when was yours, 1967, 1969, anybody else? And 1980; 96. Yeah, so I'm about wedding-ed out.
So anything else, anyone wants to ask any questions before you open the Moet? Pardon? [question from the audience]
In some places, yes, but some places no. Actually some places are kind of worse. You'd think errrr, here we go, Pauline Hanson! - "Oh, it's money we're spending on all these blacks, what are they doing with it?" It doesn't always get, black people don't always get it, you know, it's kinda, there's all sorts of politics and stuff that go on like that. And then there's the preferred lifestyle too. This day and age one would think that people progress, but its, it's their own, you know, they want to do that, that's okay. I just do the pictures, I don't want to get too locked in on what goes on there because you never get to do what you've got to do, you know. Most of the time I didn't have time to sit down and really talk about what goes on. I need to take a picture of this, or I need to take a picture of you, or; that's my job. But you can't help but get caught up in it, and sometimes you've just got to hide your emotions because it's really sad, you know, "This is so bad, you know, get me out of here", but you've got to hang on, and then take the pictures. It's like working on a newspaper, you had to go places, like knowing this wasn't so bad, but you might be at a place where it's really horrible, you know, tragedies, people killed and stuff like that; you've got to go around and you go around to someone who's lost some of their family, you go in and you ask them if they've got a picture of their lost one; take it off the mantlepiece, "Can I have this?" "Can I get a picture of you with the lost child or the person?" You do the pictures, but oh, you go out of the door, you know, but I'm a bit of a softie, but God, first couple of times, first couple of times, Oh, you know, I'm going out the door, I'm going, "Ahhh, ahhhh, dear", I'm walking down the road, tears running out of my eyes, and they say, got the thing for you Bishop, "Come to the, let's go to the pub straight away and wash that down", you know you get real dry in the mouth. I mean people maybe that work in hospitals get the same, have the same approach, you kind of get hardened to a lot of this stuff, and it's how you sort of work with it. Some, a lot of people, just, they are good photographers, but they just couldn't handle that sort of stuff; they, and I said, "Well, everybody's got to have a go at it", you know. And then came women press photographers. 'I wouldn't", they wouldnt, "want to go and do that", and guys would have to go and do it, and they'd say, "What's going on, they're getting the same money, why can't they do this, why can't they do the midnight to dawn shift?" They might do it for two nights, and '"Ahhh, it's worrying me", so. This happened! This happened, and I mean, and then they get stuck on the day shifts and the guys would always be relegated to the night shifts. And that's true, I was there. So, as they say, what's good for the goose, is sauce for the gander. So, no, but, things change.
[question from the audience]
When I left the Department, the images were there, and then they went across to AIS, the Information Service, or whatever they call that, and it became Foreign Affairs, got all mixed up in that; then, instead, they were doing whatever, I felt a bit sad about this because they put them into archives, the whole bunch, a whole whack of them, except the ones that I've got. So to get anything now, to access them you have to go to archives, it's like going into Parramatta Jail, or worse. I mean, okay if I was dead, I would dead and gone, but I'm still alive, no one has sort of come and said "What do you think we could do with this?" and I thought the obvious place to put them is with the Institute of Aboriginal and Islander Studies [AIATSIS]. No, they took them away, dirty rotters. [audience] Oh, yeah, but no one looks at them, no one can access them, you know, you've got to