Ricky Maynard / Palawa people / Australia b.1953 / Wik elder, Arthur (from Returning to places that name us’ series) 2000 / Gelatin silver photograph / 122.1 x 147.1cm / Purchased 2003. Queensland Art Gallery Foundation / Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Ricky Maynard

Ricky Maynard
Wik elder, Arthur (from ‘Returning to places that name us’ series) 2000

Not Currently on Display

At the time this photograph was taken, Arthur Pambegan Jr was the most senior and respected elder of the Wik people, and custodian for the Winchanam ceremonial group. He was custodian of the Bonefish Story Place, the rights to which he inherited from his father.

Like the four other Indigenous personalities photographed by Ricky Maynard for the ‘Returning to places that name us’ series, Arthur Pambegan Jr had long been struggling to preserve his community’s traditional practices asserting his Wik people’s cultural identity through art.

Today, his son Alair is now making and selling this work, keeping his father’s legacy alive. Arthur’s story was similar to many of that generation from the Aurukun community. Removed from his family as a youngster due to government policies of assimilation, Arthur fought to reconcile himself and his people with their traditional land and practices.

Born in Tasmania, Ricky Maynard and his family were part of the Moonbird community, a group of Tasmanian Aborigines who annually returned to remote islands in the Bass Strait during mutton bird season to work. This labour involves capturing and killing the migratory birds for food, an important seasonal source, and for feather down, oil and grease.

Maynard first encountered photography when he moved to Melbourne at the age of 16 to play football for the Hawthorn Hawks. Working in a photographic processing house sparked his fascination with photography, a hobby he maintained while working as a labourer after his return to Tasmania. Maynard’s only training during this time involved several workshops and between 1983 and 1986 he did a photographic traineeship at the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies in Canberra.

His love of documentary photography developed and in 1988 he contributed a photo essay on Aboriginal mutton bird farmers to After 200 Years: Photographic Essays of Aboriginal and Islander Australia Today. These photos showed people from his community often interacting with the camera by pointing at Maynard or facing him.

In 1989 Maynard was awarded an Aboriginal Overseas Study Award, which enabled him to study at the prestigious International Center of Photography in New York from 1990–91. Back in Adelaide in 1993, his next major series was ‘No more than what you see’, a collection of photographs that documented experiences of the many Aborigines in South Australian prisons.

This work marked the International Year of Indigenous People, and came only two years after the Royal Commission into Aboriginal Deaths in Custody. It won him the 1994 Mother Jones International Fund for Documentary Photography Award.

Discussion Questions

Photographic portraits can often give insight into a person’s life experience and identity. Maynard’s ‘Returning to places name us’ series brings viewers up close to the faces of Indigenous Australian elders. Study the image of Arthur closely and discuss your observations with your classmates.

Classroom Activities

In pairs, take portrait photographs of each other in an outdoor setting using a white sheet, canvas or card as a backdrop. Compose your portraits by cropping the images across the forehead and the inside of each shoulder. Choose which photograph best describes you. Print and display your final image twice, once in colour and once in black and white. Does the change from colour to black and white alter the image and your interpretation of the person photographed?