The Mission is a 10-part photographic work which narrates the journey of an Aboriginal woman from her homeland to life on a mission.
During this journey we witness key changes as a result of mission life: the introduction of colonial dress and goods (such as tobacco and food rations) as well as the impact of Christianity. The protagonist also marries and has a child.
Hundreds of Aboriginal missions and reserves were established throughout Australia from the early nineteenth century onwards. They generally fell under the control of State and Commonwealth protection boards and were administered by various Christian-based denominations. These missions were initially established as buffers against the colonial onslaught whereby Aboriginal people were either murdered or forced off their lands by colonial pastoralists eager to utilise this land for their own gains.
Aboriginal people were usually rounded up and placed in missions and reserves against their will, or they eventually drifted there because it was their only chance of survival. Although some Aboriginal people recall mission life as one in which communal and cultural obligations were maintained during a time of great social upheaval, for many it represented a form of cultural genocide.
The existence of missions and reserves also enabled the implementation of policies by which children of mixed Aboriginal and European heritage were forcibly removed from Aboriginal societies and placed in so-called ‘half-caste’ institutions where they were trained for service and assimilation into the vision of a white Australia. Such policies continued well into the 20th century, and the people directly affected by them are known as the Stolen Generations.
For ‘The Mission’ series I have drawn on a range of archival imagery including vintage postcards and my own personal and family photograph albums and related material. By the end of the narrative, the Aboriginal woman is leaving the mission to return to her country. This final image bears a symbolic link to my previous series, ‘Broken Dreams’ (2010), and the hope for a future in which the resilience and dreams of Aboriginal people remain unbroken against the odds.