Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies


Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies


Article excerpt

The publication of this issue of the AIATSIS journal, the second for 2003, brings us back to the schedule of issues distributed at mid-year and at the end of each year.

This was not intended as a thematic volume, but we are able to present a series of major articles and one research report relating to the topic of Indigenous health, including use of bush foods and medicines. These are introduced by Research Fellow--Health, Dr Graham Henderson, who explores the interrelated-ness of these contributions.

The final major article is unusual in that it is more of a personal explication of the role of a visual artist in a process that its author, Juno Gemes, describes as 'The Movement'--the developing concerted movement of Indigenous activists and their supporters towards obtaining rights for Indigenous Australians. Ms Gemes, a professional photographer, had an early and formative involvement with peoples of the Alice Springs area and Mornington Island and later in southeastern Australia, whose concerns she adopted and whom she supported through her considerable expertise and flair in action and portrait photography. AIATSIS recognised the importance of her photographic collections for contemporary Indigenous Australian studies and provided her with a grant to archive and conserve her photographs, copies of which are lodged with our Audiovisual Archive.

In July this year, Linda Burney, New South Wales MP, opened Ms Gemes' remarkable exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, a collection of black-and-white photographic portraits of Indigenous Australians. The exhibition, entitled Proof: Portraits from the Movement, drew on a series of photographs made by Gemes over the last quarter-century of a process of development of individual and cultural aspiration that she called 'The Movement', one led by a variety of Indigenous activists, photographed by Gemes in diverse, often historically and politically significant contexts. Publication of the catalogue of the exhibition was supported by AIATSIS. The opening of the exhibition was preceded by a forum entitled Aboriginal Activism: Then and Now. (1) On the afternoon of Sunday 17 August, photohistorian, Dr Catherine De Lorenzo (2) (University of New South Wales), and psychoanalyst, Dr Craig San Roque (Sydney), joined the photographer 'In Conversation'.

The article published here is an edited version of Ms Gemes' presentation plus a selection of photographs (the dramatic cover photograph is already iconic), including some of Institute Members, from her exhibition and archives. Ms Gemes asks that this caution be brought to the attention of our readers: Warning: Please be aware that this article contains portraits and names of Indigenous persons no longer with us.

We are pleased to introduce this departure from our normal run of articles and encourage our Members and other readers to consider contributions along similar lines.


(1.) Aboriginal Activism: Then and Now. Friday 11 July 2003, 9.30-12.30 pm, National Portrait Gallery, Commonwealth Place (chaired by Gordon Briscoe and coordinated by Frances Peters-Little, Australian Centre for Indigenous History, Research School of Social Sciences, The Australian National University).

(2.) Dr De Lorenzo's review of Christopher Pinney and Nicolas Peterson (editors), 2003, Photography's Other Histories is published in this issue.

Graeme K Ward

Introduction to the other major articles

The health of Indigenous Australians is poorer than that of non-Indigenous Australians by most measures used in public health. For example, the life expectancy at birth for Indigenous Australians was 56 years for males and 63 years for females in the period 1999 to 2001. The comparable figures for all Australians were 77 years for males and 82 years for females (ABS & AIHW 2003:182).

The major causes of this excess premature death among Indigenous Australians during 1999-2001 were diseases of the circulatory system (e. …

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