Located on the lands of the Gunggandji people in coastal Far North Queensland, Yarrabah is a vibrant, cultural place and is widely acknowledged as the largest Aboriginal community in Australia. Yet, like much of colonised Australia, Yarrabah holds a complex and tumultuous history of violent displacement and cultural suppression due to missionisation. This history has often been recounted from a non-Aboriginal perspective and typically focuses on the life and work of mission superintendent, Ernest Gribble [1868-1957], or a toned-down interpretation of the Aboriginal experience. There is limited literature that offers true insight into the deeply personal legacies and stories of the early Aboriginal residents of the Yarrabah mission days from 1892-1960.
Born in c.1880s, the late Tottie Joinbee was one of the early Aboriginal residents removed to Yarrabah. She lived to 110 years and was affectionately known as Granny Tottie. She remains a deeply respected woman who held onto her cultural identity and knowledge despite the efforts of the colonial enterprise.
Drawing upon oral history accounts and Kathleen Denigan’s Reflections of Yarrabah 2008, Arnol recreates the memories and significant events of Granny Tottie, ultimately forming a visual record of her great grandmothers’ life. The 1899 Yarrabah: Church of England Aboriginal Mission: rules and regulations booklet, also informs Arnol’s portraits revealing deplorable accounts of starvation, slave labour and punishment. Each portrait is layered with a multitude of meanings, perspectives and history, with the dramatic and symbolic colour red tethering the works together.
This deeply personal and evocative series of works exemplifies the power of contemporary portraiture in its ability to retell and ‘regenerate’ people and histories that were deliberately minimised, disregarded and suppressed. seeRED is a heart-wrenching visual and aural testimony to the history of Yarrabah and Granny Tottie, connecting the past with the present and to the future.
by Rebecca Ray (Meriam), First Nations Curator, National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Artist Showcase Program
An online resource for artists, curators, collectors, and the public that provides information about contemporary artists from the region, many of whom are represented in the Gallery's Permanent Collection.
This initiative extends the Gallery’s support of the outstanding arts practice of artists from our region.
This project has been assisted by the Australian Government through the Australia Council for the Arts, its arts funding and advisory body.
Artist Fellowship Program
Supporting regional artists with grants of $7,500 to develop a new body of work for a future exhibition.
To date, Fellowships have been awarded to Francesca Rosa, Maharlina Gorospe-Lockie, Janet Fieldhouse, Simone Arnol, Jason Wegger, Naomi Hobson, Heather Koowootha, Joel Sam, Daniel Wallwork, Monique Burkead, Tommy Pau and Sonya Creek.
The Artist Fellowship Award is proudly supported by the Cairns RSL Club.
This exhibition has been supported through a Cairns RSL Club Artist Fellowship Award
1: Simone Arnol, Girl’s Home Regulations: BLANKETS To be aired daily. Dirty blankets to be washed. Each inmate to have her own blanket with her name in the corner. Blankets to be pressed by 12 o’clock and the press locked by the Matron (detail) from the 1899 Yarrabah Rules and Regulations, 2023
Model Sarah Fagan, whose Great Grandmother was part of the Stolen Generation
2: Simone Arnol, Mission Worker’s Rules # 1. The rule is: Remember that. “Example” is better than Precept from the 1899 Yarrabah Rules and Regulations, 2023
Courtesy of the artist
Model Tahleise Willet, Gunggandji peoples and traditional owner of Yarrabah
The Cairns Art Gallery acknowledges the Traditional Owners of the land on which we work and live. We pay our respects to Elders past and present. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people should be aware that this website may contain images, names or voices of deceased persons in photographs, film or text.