‘Desert diamonds’ shine in the outback’s answer to Vogue magazine

It started with a few boxes of donated clothes — formal dresses, two-piece suits, tiaras, and jewellery.

In the remote desert communities of the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Lands, straddling the borders between the Northern Territory, Western Australia, and South Australia, young people have been dressing up, striking a pose, and showing their power in a new magazine.

Rikina, the Pitjanjatjara word for “cool, stylish”, has been produced by the NPY Women’s Council (NPYWC), with youth workers becoming fashion photographers in the desert’s answer to Vogue.

And they say it has given young Anangu a confidence boost.

Fashion parade comes to life in print

“We had big plans for the [NPYWC’s 40th anniversary] AGM last year to do a fashion parade, and we were really excited about it,” the council’s boarding school education officer Tamika McMasters said.

“But we couldn’t go ahead because of COVID.”

The boxes of clothes though, donated from social enterprise Thread Together, were not about to go to waste.

Anangu boys got in on the photo shoot fun including Ricallum, Clayton, Anton, Eric, Quindarius, and Jeremiah in Mantamaru, WA.(Supplied: NPY Women’s Council)

Photo shoots took place across communities including Kaltukatjara (Docker River) and Mutitjulu in the NT, Papulankutja (Blackstone), Mantamaru (Jameson) and Irrunyntju (Wingellina) in WA, and Putkatja in SA.

“They were very happy to wear the older dresses and get dressed up and have a laugh with all their friends, they really enjoyed that.”

With taglines like “Desert diamonds — strong and beautiful”, “Wiyantja wiya — never give up”, “Desert Kings and Queens”, and “Kungkas [Pitjanjatjara for girls/women] on country”, the magazine shows teenagers at home, backed by sprawling mountain ranges and posing with rusty wrecked cars that match the red dirt.

Some assumed fierce expressions and sassy poses, some thoughtful, others beaming or on the verge of giggles alongside their friends.

close up photo of young Indigenous girl wearing tiara and leopard print blouse looking at camera
Rikina’s tagline is “Celebrating the power of our youth” like Zemirah from Mantamaru, WA.(Supplied: NPY Women’s Council)

‘Nervous, shy, proud’

Three friends from Docker River, Anne-Marie, Cynthia, and Delicia, were excited to see themselves and their friends and relatives in print with the release of Rikina’s debut issue.

Anne-Marie, who has begun working with youth in her community, said she helped persuade the other two to join the photo shoot.

Delicia said she felt “nervous and shy” at first, but all three agreed the experience made them feel “proud”.

Indigenous teenage girl wearing beaded necklace and formal dress posing in desert for fashion magazine
Cynthia from Kaltukutjara (Docker River) said she felt “proud” to see herself in the pages of a magazine.(Supplied: NPY Women’s Council )

Tamika McMasters said the project instilled the young Anangu with confidence.

Young Aboriginal people are often heavily disadvantaged in terms of health, housing, services, and job opportunities in remote communities, compared to their non-Aboriginal and city peers.

So part of Ms McMasters’ work with the NPYWC involves helping them gain skills to help them find work and inspire them into possible careers.

Young Indigenous boy with tousled orange hair wearing pink shirt and looking into camera
Young people from communities across the NPY Lands took part in the shoot, including Clayton, pictured, from Mantamaru (Jameson).(Supplied: NPY Women’s Council)

Pointing to a “powerful” portrait of one of the Rikina models, Ms McMasters explained that before the shoot, one young girl “never came to the youth shed” in her community because of bullying and teasing.

“But one of the youth workers said to her they were doing a photo shoot and they got donated clothes, and she was at the photo shoot that day. They were taking these photos,” Ms McMasters said.

Indigenous teenage girl with hair pulled back in tight bun, posing in desert landscape wearing pink formal dress
Delicia said she felt “nervous and shy” when she first tried her hand at modeling.(Supplied: NPY Women’s Council)

“After that photo shoot she is now going to the rec shed every day.

“You can see she’s very confident in this photo. She [now] feels more comfortable to be at the youth shed because she might have been with all the kids and enjoyed taking the photos.”

Young Indigenous woman wearing strapless formal dress poses in desert landscape for fashion magazine
Showcasing young people at home on country, Anne Marie poses here in Kaltukutjara (Docker River).(Supplied: NPY Women’s Council)

Ms McMasters said the June 2022 issue of Rikina was being distributed across Central Australia and the photos were already proving popular on social media, with the NPY Women’s Council hoping to release another edition of the magazine in 2023.

The NPYWC was started in 1980 as an advocacy body for Aboriginal women and children, and today remains governed and directed by Aboriginal women, providing a range of social, art, and health services across the region.

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