Life in a wheat-belt town hit hard by suicide is seen through the eyes of young people in a special Close the Gap photographic exhibition in Perth.
The exhibition, Morditj Warniny (meaning ‘Strong Change’), features photos taken by Noongar youth aged between 11 and 18 from the town of Narrogin, and is being launched at Parliament House today, National Close the Gap Day (25 March).
More than 30,000 people across Australia are taking part in National Close the Gap Day to send a strong message to government to get its approach right on addressing the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health crisis. State politicians from all sides of politics, including Leader of the Opposition Eric Ripper, will attend tonight’s exhibition opening to meet the young people and view their work.
Oxfam Australia ran an intensive photography workshop to give young people in Narrogin photography skills so they could tell their own stories.
Oxfam Australia’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People’s Program coordinator Lisa Briggs said Oxfam had been working with the Narrogin community since 2008, when the town asked the agency to step in and fund an Aboriginal psychologist after a spate of suicides devastated the town.
“Despite the trauma in the town, the strongest themes emerging from photographs are not so much about what is wrong, but what is good, and what could be changed,” Ms Briggs said. “Strong Change is what these young photographers call their exhibition. Their energy, enthusiasm and optimism is evident in these photos.”
Fourteen-year-old Kameesha Thorne said there was a lot of grieving in Narrogin. “It’s hard to be a young person here with all that happening around you. It’s hard to find peace,” she said.
The theme of sport and family comes up frequently in the photographs. Eighteen-year-old Wade Kickett said: “Basketball gets you motivated. It gets you going … and family helps me be strong.”
Ms Briggs said Oxfam’s response to the crisis in Narrogin had also included the development of camps for women and youth to support the connection between Aboriginal people and culture, and healing circles.
The Federal Government recently announced $1.5 million for mental health over three years for Western Australia’s wheat-belt area. Ms Briggs said Oxfam would support the work of Aboriginal psychologist Darrell Henry until June, when the Federal money would kick in.
“As an international development agency, Oxfam Australia does not usually provide essential services in our own country,” she said. “But in this instance, we felt we had an overriding responsibility to support the community’s request for assistance.”
The Morditj Warniny exhibition will be launched at 5.30 pm tonight at Parliament House and will be at the Kaditj Café from 26 March to 1 April, and then at the Narrogin Nexis Gallery from 21 – 24 April.
For interviews please contact Laurelle Keough on 0409 960 100 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
RSVP to tonight’s event is essential.