Daily Picture Show

Photographing What Endures For Australia's Aboriginals

National Geographic
 

In Australian media, there is no shortage of coverage of the Aboriginal population. And, according to photographer Amy Toensing, the coverage is not always favorable.

"On paper, the truth is there's some really hard stuff going on [within the Aboriginal population] — like with alcoholism and education," Toensing says over the phone from New York.

So when she convinced National Geographic in 2009 to invest in a long-term documentary about Aboriginal culture, Toensing decided to take a different approach:

"It's about people and how they are still connected to the land," she says of her work. "The moment you start spending time in Aboriginal communities ... you can tell there's this really powerful connection to the Australian landscape."

  • Aboriginal children pause for a portrait in the moonlight out on their ancestral homelands near Cape Stewart in the Northern Territory, Australia.
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    Aboriginal children pause for a portrait in the moonlight out on their ancestral homelands near Cape Stewart in the Northern Territory, Australia.
    Amy Toensing/National Geographic
  • Uluru rises from the red center of Australia. The Anangu Aboriginal people are responsible for the spiritual protection of the large rock formation and have stories about giant serpents slithering in from the desert to meet here.
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    Uluru rises from the red center of Australia. The Anangu Aboriginal people are responsible for the spiritual protection of the large rock formation and have stories about giant serpents slithering in from the desert to meet here.
    Amy Toensing/National Geographic
  • Friends and family gather around a fire in an Alice Springs town camp, Northern Territory. Town camps were established by squatters from remote communities seeking access to the public services available in towns. They have since become permanent communities with reputations for being dangerous at night.
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    Friends and family gather around a fire in an Alice Springs town camp, Northern Territory. Town camps were established by squatters from remote communities seeking access to the public services available in towns. They have since become permanent communities with reputations for being dangerous at night.
    Amy Toensing/National Geographic
  • Mawunmula Garawirrtja cools off in a tidal pool while gathering food at low tide with her grandmother.
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    Mawunmula Garawirrtja cools off in a tidal pool while gathering food at low tide with her grandmother.
    Amy Toensing/National Geographic
  • There are roughly 500 homelands in the Northern Territory. Living on homelands allows Aboriginal people to maintain their spiritual connection to their land and raise their families within their traditional culture.
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    There are roughly 500 homelands in the Northern Territory. Living on homelands allows Aboriginal people to maintain their spiritual connection to their land and raise their families within their traditional culture.
    Amy Toensing/National Geographic
  • Batumbil Burarrwanga manages her homelands with fire. "Fire is my totem. I am fire. It is deep down inside me. Fire is my talent, my voice. When I talk, my voice is the flame; through the flame is my power."
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    Batumbil Burarrwanga manages her homelands with fire. "Fire is my totem. I am fire. It is deep down inside me. Fire is my talent, my voice. When I talk, my voice is the flame; through the flame is my power."
    Amy Toensing/National Geographic

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Nearly four years after starting the project, Toensing's work has culminated in National Geographic's June issue. But the magazine can only fit so many photos in its pages. And only so many online. So Toensing shared a few extras with us here.

The magazine article written by Michael Finkel takes a comprehensive look at life in Aboriginal communities today — and includes a few striking facts, like: "More than a half million Aboriginals currently live in Australia, less than three percent of the [original] population."

Although stories like these often emphasize "a community in decline," Toensing's photos celebrate what has endured. And although the story has gone to print, for Toensing it's to be continued. She plans to return in July.

"I can't get enough," she says.

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