I came across a chapter in this book (Something like slavery? Queensland’s Aboriginal child workers, 1842–1945. Author, Dr Shirleene Robinson)(1), about the fishing industry in Queensland which reached its height in the 1880s. There were two big industries … the bêche–de–mer and the pearling industry, and what used to happen, unbeknownst to a lot of people here in Queensland, is that they used to kidnap Aboriginal people – men, women and children up along the east coast – and they would take them on these luggers (shipping vessels). Up to 40 Aboriginal people on these boats, and they would work them really hard, and also there was a lot of brutality that took place on these boats – so it’s another aspect of this hidden history that we have here in this country.
Through reading that particular chapter, it fascinated me … they did take people from Fraser Island and so I thought, wouldn’t it be great historically to make a work that is related to this history but also to do the work back on my country at Hervey Bay and Fraser Island.
The idea for the work, the photographic series The Oyster Fishermen, sat with me for about two years and I scouted out different locations on the Island and the mainland, and I had the dress made, based on an old mission dress from a black–and–white historical photograph of an Aboriginal woman in a mission. There are threads that run through the work. There is the blue dress – that is the only colour, the rest is sepia tone. I wanted a sense of the violence that was being perpetrated against this woman. There are other threads – there are three fish heads relating to the three men in the series … and the ‘hiddenness’ of the woman and the reveal, and I wanted that to be a part of the work as well.
This is an edited transcript of an interview with Fiona Foley in association with the exhibition My Country, I Still Call Australia Home: Contemporary Art from Black Australia, Gallery of Modern Art, Brisbane, June 2013, and originally shown on QAGOMA TV, http://tv.qagoma.qld.gov.au/2013/05/29/fiona-foley-artist-interview-the-oyster-fishermen-2011/
Reproduced with kind permission of the artist and Queensland Art Gallery /
Gallery of Modern Art
(1) Dr Shirleene Robinson, Something like slavery? Queensland’s Aboriginal child
workers, 1842–1945. Australian Scholarly Press, Melbourne, 2008.