Barbara McGrady, or aunty Barb, as she is affectionately known in the indigenous community around Sydney, is a featured artist in the annual Head On Photo Festival.
McGrady’s exhibition, Visions in Black and White – Images from Indigenous Australia, is on show at the Redfern Community Centre until June 24.
The images in the exhibition represent a fraction of an enormous production of photographs documenting contemporary indigenous history, but her abiding passion is sport.
When the big rugby games or boxing matches are on McGrady can be found in the pit holding her own among the boy sport photographers, who have come to accept and respect her.
“There were a few nasty incidents in the beginning but I told them where to get off and now they help me through the ropes.”
Not one to talk about her achievements, those who know her can testify to the personal and political struggle which has made her the strong Gamilaroi Murri yinah (woman), she is today.
A former sports captain at Mungendai High School, trained nurse, mother and grandmother, McGrady has had her share of tragedy. But rather than dwell on the past, she decided to go to university and last year graduated from Sydney University with a major in indigenous studies and sociology.
“Sociology is how I see the world, but I was always artistic and used to draw and paint all the time when I was a kid.”
Photographs were an early passion but it was only in recent years when Barbara took the plunge and invested in good camera gear that she was able to do realise her dream of becoming a professional photographer.
Her photographs appear regularly in the National Indigenous Times and she is engaged by Sydney City Council to document the Eora Gadigal journey within the Sydney district.
Opening her exhibition, long time activist, academic and friend Gary Foley paid tribute to McGrady’s contribution to local history, for it was in Redfern, he said, that many of the most important changes of the 1960s happened.
“At the time more than 20,000 aboriginal people lived in this part of Sydney … It was the largest community in New South Wales. We were all poor.”
Foley said Barbara’s photographs were a more important record of history than the work of academics like himself.
The exhibition features images of famous indigenous Australians such as Jessica Mauboy and Anthony Mundine, protests by the Hickey family and the black diggers march. McGrady’s first exhibition was a record of Occupy Sydney at the Boomalli Gallery.
McGrady does not see herself solely as an observer, but as a protagonist and “documentarian” of historical events that are important to aboriginal culture and people.
Rarely a cultural event, funeral, protest, concert or sporting event takes place without the presence of this meticulous photographer, whose photographic images capture the passion and achievements of the indigenous community.
She is grateful to the community too. “Thanks to all the mob who let me and my camera into their lives.”
Head On Photo Festival, the creation of Moshe Rosenzveig and the Head On Foundation, is Australia’s largest photography festival.
Rosenzveig, whose career in the visual arts and media spans over 30 years, created the first Head On event in 2004. The festival now includes more than 200 events across Sydney showcasing the best and most innovative photography across all genres through exhibitions, workshops, masterclasses, competitions and talks across museums, galleries, cafes, parks and building illuminations.
Head On looks for opportunities to support social awareness, and its activities have included raising money for Afghan photographers and working with indigenous photographers .
This year Head On exhibitions cover everything from Hollywood stars, convict life and Afghan soldiers to striking landscapes, compelling portraits and innovative uses from high-end photography through to mobile phones and plastic cameras.
For the first time, Head On Portrait Prize will be at State Library of NSW with several other shows. The three prizes, which make up the Head On Awards, are open competitions attracting thousands of entries and record viewers year on year.
For details of the festival visit headon.com.au