Aboriginal photographer grilled on entry to racism debate

Barbara McGrady Photo: Mat Ward

Barbara McGrady Photo: Mat Ward


Indigenous photographer Barbara McGrady has accepted an apology from the management of the City Recital Hall, Angel Place, for staff rudeness when she arrived to photograph a debate on racism.

The incident occurred last Tuesday when McGrady – who holds the Anthony Mundine Courage Award in the National Indigenous Human Rights category and the International Indigenous Solid Screen Award for Women in Film and Photography – tried to enter the concert hall to photograph the Ethics Centre-sponsored debate, “Racism is destroying the Australian dream”.

McGrady said she was spoken to rudely by three staff members as she rushed up the stairs carrying her professional 1D Mark 4 Cannon and about five kilos of camera gear.

Stan Grant addresses ethics debate at the City Recital Hall   Photo: Barbaa McGrady

Stan Grant addresses ethics debate at the City Recital Hall Photo: Barbara McGrady

The photographer had arrived late at the event because four taxis passed her on Glebe Point Road before she managed to get a ride into the CBD.

By the time she arrived at the concert hall the event had already begun and no one from the Ethics Committee was in the vestibule to check her booking.  McGrady, who suffers from asthma, said she struggled to regain her breath as she was asked to produce her ID.

In the end a representative from the Ethics Centre confirmed her right to attend.

McGrady has accepted what she described as the sincere apology from Venue Services Manager Katie Christou, but said she complained to management because she was weary of the endless discrimination Aborigines encounter on a daily basis.

“They were so rude,” McGrady, also known as Aunty Barb, said. “They didn’t apologise [on the day] and they only let me in reluctantly. When I complained after the event they told me they had done the right thing and were only doing their job.

“This sort of thing happens to us all the time. It is just one more example of how people react badly when they see an Aboriginal person in an ordinary context. If I had been a white photographer running late I don’t think they would have treated me like that.”

Ethics Centre moderator Simon Longstaff said it was a tragic irony this should happen at an event that was attempting to address the issue of racism in Australia.

“If a person is engaged in a professional activity this should not happen simply because of her race.”

Longstaff said the incident offered a rare opportunity for management to show they understood the significance of what they had done and to offer McGrady an apology, which they did days later.

At the same time that McGrady was explaining to staff she had authority to attend the event, well-known Aboriginal journalist Stan Grant was arguing for the proposition “Racisim is killing the Australian Dream”.

Actor Jack Thompson and columnist Rita Panahi  Photo: Barbara McGrady

Actor Jack Thompson and columnist Rita Panahi Photo: Barbara McGrady

In his address Grant told how his heavily pregnant white grandmother was refused treatment at a hospital because she was married to an Aboriginal. Grant is a successful journalist who has worked in many theatres of war around the world, from Afghanistan to Pakistan. He is a presenter at SBS ITV.

Also at the event arguing for the proposition that racism was alive and kicking in Australia was immigration lawyer and second generation Indian Australian Pallavi Sinha, who appears in the recently-released film about love and race, Unindian, starring Australian Brett Lee.

Arguing against the proposition were Australian actor Jack Thompson, whose Australian ancestry dates back to early settlement and American Iranian-born Herald Sun columnist Rita Panahi who said: “There is no country that is as proudly diverse, welcoming and fair-minded as the lucky country.”

McGrady’s experience comes on the heels of similar incidents concerning Aboriginal elder and world-famous actor Jack Charles who was twice stopped from entering a taxi within three days.

Last Wednesday night after a Melbourne event where Mr Charles was declared Victorian Senior Australian of the Year a taxi driver demanded upfront payment because he believed the actor might not pay for the ride.

Two days later, a BBC report said Mr Charles was trying to board a taxi at Melbourne airport when it suddenly took off and drove away.

Mr Charles said Aboriginal Australians were often abused in this way.

The actor had a cameo role in the Warner Brothers Peter Pan sequel film Pan this year. He is best known for his work in Australian films, including Tom White and The Chant of Jimmy Blacksmith.

The Ethics Centre (formerly St James Ethics Centre) is an independent not-for-profit organisation that provides a forum for the promotion of ethical decision-making in business, the professions, the community and government.


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