EC: You said they said there won’t be any picture in 50 years’ time. Is it because they’re going back to the communities?
LB: No, it’s because people aren’t donating them. Unless people give images, there won’t be images. They’ll just have the few images that they have now. We’re talking about the Melbourne Museum. And I would like to be like Jim Berg – a Gunditjmara man from the Western district. He’s donated 15,000 images to the Koori Heritage Trust. But at the same time, with that collection, I’ve got to go and have a look – all of that collection will have to be named as well. So I want to send him an email and say, ‘Jim, have you named the 15,000, from 1 to 15,000?’ And he’ll tell me, ‘Lisa’, and tell me to get out of here. But that’s one example of living by example. That’s not getting big grant, it’s just doing.
If we don’t do it… No one else is running around taking pictures. And you see a lot of people, Estelle, and this is by Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal, taking our image, but you never see the image again. And you think, if those people out there are doing that, why can’t they make an extra copy. And if they think ‘I don’t know who they are’… the rules are – and I don’t follow this, for the record – you’re supposed to supply like a two-page permission slip before you take a photo. Then you can… after they’ve done that they can be spontaneous; well, I don’t have time for that. So I mean I’ll get you to sign afterwards, because I want you to be yourself now. Often I say, ‘hold the camera!’ I use my other hand like a little bird, to distract them. And I say, ‘be yourself’, and they relax. And then they go, ‘oh, too fast’.
Again you often see people videotaping Aboriginal people, this could be at a public event, for example, National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee Week – NAIDOC week. Well… If we was in a lecture-type situation, you would have to ask permission, but here we are at a public event, and then you think, what do people do with all that information, and who are you. Sometimes I’ve had some non-Aboriginal people come up to me and ask me questions, like, ‘what are you doing?’ And I think, I don’t know you, and I just think you’re being very rude, so I just say, ‘I’m working for ASIO’ – that’s the intelligence [laugh] organisation. Because I think, come on, who are you to ask me, when people know in the community that I’ll give you your photos back? So if you ask me that, then there is something not quite right.
At the same time, I don’t generally go up to non-Aboriginal people, although back in 19… I think it was 1997, I was a guest down at Port Phillip, at St Kilda, for the National Sorry Day. There was an Age photographer – and The Age is one of the Melbourne major daily newspaper – and he had the longest lens, probably a meter long. No, not a meter long but about that long [gestures with her hands], 30 centimetres. And I am looking at him, and he’s squatting down on his knee, and I am looking at his view, and his view was a couple of parkies – parkies is our term for homeless. They had the coolabah cask, they had splitted their legs, and they’re laughing away. I went around and I said, ‘Excuse-me, what are you doing?’ And he said, ‘I’m just taking photos.’ ‘Look at what you’re doing? Here we are, trying to breakdown stereotypes, and you, with your long lens, want to replicate without knowing these people’s history. Two Aborigines sitting on a log with their coolabah cask.’ ‘Oh, I didn’t know I was doing that’, [he said]. Come on, if I had a lens like that I would know what I was doing. And then I watched him, and it was hard because I had to go and read poetry there, but I watched him like a hawk. Then, the next day, the photos that were in The Age were the dancers dancing to the fire and everything. Okay… But that doesn’t happen often, thankfully. But here you think, in the modern age, in Melbourne, we had an Age photographer who just wanted to be nasty about things and that would just have… not ruined the day, but… it would have made it very sad. Because we are talking about child removal, they were trying to have this image. I don’t have much patience for that.
Then I’ve had another couple of incidents, with photographers, on Mabo Day. I think it was 2002 – the ten year celebration. And Mrs Mabo, Aunty Mabo, was sitting on a bench, out in front of the Melbourne Town Hall – not far from where we are now – and was sitting with Uncle Jimmy Rice. And the photographer started yelling at her, and as I was walking from the crowd I was… ‘what’s going on here?’ And the photographer telling Auntie needed to take her glasses off because she had been crying. Because it was celebrating her husband, and it was an emotional time. I got there at the tail end and I just said something like ‘you shouldn’t really do that’, but he had already taken a photo, and so I’ll take a photo, too, so I can tell everyone, these situations happen. That was a horrible situation. And this is how you shouldn’t treat… I mean you shouldn’t treat people in general like that, Estelle, but especially when you’re dealing with Indigenous people and it’s being an emotional time. It shows you how polite we can be, but I wasn’t very happy because sometimes you just want to rush them, go fast and have an accident. It’s up and down, and it goes back to practising what you preach. What’s ethical behaviour.
I’ve tried to find out: is there ethical photography? I’ve written 25 points on whether there is ethical photography regarding taking photographs of Aboriginal and Islander people. But before that, I’ve said, all this is up to the individual. There is no laws, no one is going to put you in handcuffs if you’re rude and you take your picture and all that sort of stuff, but you should know to behave better, and if you don’t know how to behave better, then I’ll say, read my 25 points. Because some people like to play ignorant, Estelle. And here you have Indigenous people, our poets, our storytellers, and if you think who is the audience out there – you know there is an audience out there but you’re looking at what motivates you to do what you do. And my motivation is I am fed up with people being ignorant, I’m fed up with people saying we don’t know any Aboriginal people. I get it in Brisbane! I mean everywhere you go there is a Murri! And I’ve been at pubs, performing. And someone would come to…: ‘where do you meet them, where do you meet the Aboriginal community in Brisbane?’ For God’s sake, I mean, we are everywhere! It sort of flabbergasts me sometimes. At least that person is reaching out. You kind of get quite… miffed, sometimes.