Kurtijar elder Gloria Campbell was in her early teens when she started working on cattle stations as a cook and housekeeper in the Gulf of Carpentaria.
- Portraits of First Nations women from Queensland’s Normanton have won a prestigious international award
- The portraits highlight the stories of Indigenous women forced to work on cattle stations
- Photographer David Prichard said it has been “a privilege” working on the piece
The Normanton woman remembers the monotonous regime of life on the station and “hard work from morning to night”.
Now, Ms Campbell is sharing the international stage with three other Normanton women whose experiences have been highlighted in the 2021 Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize.
Sydney photographer David Prichard’s Tribute to Indigenous Stock Women was crowned winner of the annual award out of 5,392 submissions from 62 countries.
The series shines a light on the dark experiences of First Nations women forced to live and work on cattle stations.
The women’s portraits, along with their stories, will be exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London from November to January.
Kurtijar women Merna Beasley and Shirley Mary Ann McPherson, as well as Gkuthaarn woman Mildred Burns, are also honoured in the work.
The photographer is well known for capturing Indigenous cowboys during rodeo circuits in northern Australia.
“Any level of investigation into Australian history reveals the years of trauma that Indigenous people have suffered,” he said.
“One can only imagine what stock women endured, living in remote areas in a world dominated by white colonial culture and law.
Kurtijar woman Merna Beasley was 15 when she started working on cattle stations in the Gulf.
She said the satisfaction she found in her work with horses and cattle was starkly offset by the harsh treatment she suffered at the hands of ranchers.
“Once, when I was out bush working, my aunty passed away in town,” Ms Beasley said in an interview for the portrait project.
Spotlight on a dark history
White Australian landowners made fortunes from beef production by seizing ancestral lands and exploiting Indigenous workers who lived in poor conditions on the cattle stations.
The industry remains hugely profitable.
In June 2021, the Miranda Downs station, where Merna Beasley, Gloria Campbell, and Mildred Burns once worked, was sold for more than $160 million — a record sum for an Australian ranch.
The women were photographed at the Burns Philp Building, a former store and warehouse in Normanton built by a shipping company that enslaved South Sea Islanders during the 1800s.
In making the series, Prichard said he was acutely aware of the complex history of representing Indigenous people in Australian photography.
“I have always been respectful of cultural and social sensitivities, and subsequently built trust with the community, which led me to be invited to photograph the women,” he said.
Prichard said he planned to donate part of the $28,249 prize money to the Normanton community.
“I’m so ecstatic that these women and their stories will be broadcast on an international platform and acknowledged and honoured as part of this exhibition,” he said.
Gulf of Carpentaria Mayor Jack Bawden thanked Mr Prichard.
“Congratulations David on winning this award and your displays now have further special meaning for our First Nations people,” he said.