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.
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.
‘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”.
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.
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.
“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.”
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.