It has been over 250 years since Captain James Cook’s first voyage to Australia and 100 years since the Australian Constitution was created, and still, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people aren’t acknowledged in our constitution (ABC News 2019).
With Marie Claire’s ‘It’s Time’ campaign featured in their February issue last year, they aimed to shine a light on this prominent issue. In support of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, this initiative called for recognition and reform to have the First Nations peoples’ voice enshrined in the constitution. Marie Claire joined forces with over 30 activists, entertainers, academics and entrepreneurs to highlight the urgency of this matter to push for change now (Marie Claire, 2021).
Stage and screen actress Miranda Tapsell (front right), model Samantha Harris (front left) and singer - songwriter and actress Jessica Mauboy (back) fronting the February 2020 cover of Marie Claire. Courtesy of Marie Claire 2021.
Fronting the cover of the February 2020 issue were stage and screen actress Miranda Tapsell, model Samantha Harris and singer-songwriter and actress Jessica Mauboy. In Marie Claire’s podcast Finding Fearless, editor Nicky Briger interviewed Jessica Mauboy about her journey and how she is using her platform to spread awareness about this issue.
For Jessica, culture and connection to Country are significant parts that form her identity; they are ingrained in her DNA:
“I was born on Dreamtime land...I walked to school every day hand in hand with my sisters, and we’d swim in the local waterfall in the afternoons – minding the freshwater crocs. I feel like I was born cultural. I am Darwin, I am the Northern Territory, I am the saltwater, the freshwater and the desert.” - Jessica Mauboy, 2020
Growing up in the suburb of Wulagi in Darwin, Jess was culturally, linguistically and musically immersed in both her father’s and mother’s heritage. Her father, Ferdy, is an Indonesian-born electrician who came from West Timor, and her mother, Therese, is a proud Kuku Yalanji woman whose people originate from the rainforest regions of Far North Queensland. This heavily cultural upbringing and her learning of the Yolngu culture and language at school, form a large part of her deep-rooted respect for Country and culture:
“I was always constantly being told, “Respect this Larrakia land, respect this culture and get into it; know it because you were born on it. So, therefore, it is a gift to you,”” and, “We were taught the language, you know, the different areas, or the bushland where it comes from. I think that was the best part, too, of being so submerged in schools that were teaching Yolngu language and teaching about the different tribes.” - Jessica Mauboy, 2020
In the latter interview Jessica (2020) explained that her upbringing has definitely helped to fuel her activist spirit, and she expressed what Indigenous constitutional recognition would mean for her:
“I recently went back to Uluru in the Northern Territory, and digging my feet in the red dirt felt powerful. I was there just before they banned climbing it and removed the chain. Uluru has always felt really free to me, especially now the chains are gone. The same thing needs to happen with our constitution, we need to lift the barrier to move forward. For me, Indigenous constitutional recognition would mean freedom.”
For Jessica (2020), the hardest part of this issue is that:
“We have stalled in the past because there is that fear of, “If I stand up and speak out what’s going to happen to me?” But now I think let’s not be scared..that’s what we’ve been instilled this whole time is fear, and what we think we know...We’ve had to live with this history and not be upfront about it so we can’t let anyone put fear in that knowledge.”
Jessica Mauboy and Samantha Harris in Marie Claire’s February 2020 spread for the ‘It’s Time Campaign.’ Courtesy of Marie Claire, 2021.
She expressed her excitement (2020) on being included in Marie Claire’s ‘It’s Time’ campaign as she wants to highlight that there needs to be more Indigenous involvement in the government, particularly to the many Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians that don’t know that Indigenous people are not recognised in our constitution:
“It’s such a beautiful thing where major companies and businesses can come together and see that - in full view - that this is happening and we all want to work together. But, that thing [the constitution] is stopping a voice, a way of moving forward. That’s the barrier that’s really clogging and congesting right now, is not being able to have that leader that Aboriginal people look to...and go, “Who’s making these calls for us?” And, making calls that aren’t right, or, that is not understanding to the culture or language. We are lucky enough to still have a bit of it, and a lot of our communities are still trying to find a lot of the dialect...And what better way to have so many people on board to share to others that are not understanding, or are just coming on board to continue to piece that together. I think that’s what this calling is for; this statement is...for everyone to put their hand in and go, “we wanna work to a better place.””
“I’m so proud to be a part of the oldest culture in the world and to have Aboriginal blood in my veins.” - Samantha Harris, 2019.
When proud Dunghutti woman Samantha Harris first started modelling 15 years ago, she received several racist comments on social media and was told that she’s ‘pretty for an Aboriginal.’ Despite being an established and successful model in the Australian fashion industry, she is still being subjected to trolling on social media and racism in the modelling industry. For Samantha, these issues hit close to home and are a lot more upsetting, as her mother was victim to the Stolen Generation. In her interview with Marie Claire (2019), she expressed her heart ache:
“My mum didn’t have the chance to be a proud Aboriginal woman. She was part of the Stolen Generation; it was so wrong. Mum dreamt of being a model herself but never had the opportunity."
Samantha’s determination to not let these negative situations get the best of her is underpinned by her strong family ties, particularly with her mother who is one of the most inspirational figures in her life. Throughout her successes she has always stayed grounded to her roots and believes that, as a role model for the Indigenous youth it’s “definitely so important for me to lead my voice.” Samantha often travels to remote communities around Australia for community festivals and modelling workshops to inspire youth to follow their dreams, as she did hers.
Samantha Harris in Marie Claire’s February 2020 spread for the ‘It’s Time Campaign.’ Courtesy of Marie Claire, 2021.
As someone proud of her identity, Samantha was thrilled to represent her sixty-millennia strong culture and vocalise the need for Indigenous constitutional recognition for the world to see. For Samantha, constitutional recognition is so much more than a piece of paper:
“It makes my blood boil that we’re the only [major] Commonwealth country that doesn’t have a treaty with its Indigenous people. It’s been 250 years; it really is time. Always was, always will be Aboriginal land.”
Stage and screen actress Miranda Tapsell was born in her grandmother’s country - the ancestral lands of the Larrakia people in Darwin. Miranda grew up on Mirarr land in the Kakadu National Park, surrounded by her Indigenous community and no development anywhere to be seen. She (2019) expressed fond memories of her childhood:
“Most of my baby photos are me on a tarpaulin on a secluded beach, no development anywhere to be seen. I moved out to Mirarr land in Kakadu National Park when I was five. Most of my school holidays were spent swimming with my cousins at Gunlom Falls or admiring the flood plains from Ubirr lookout with my grandparents.”
Growing up in this lifestyle gave Miranda a strong sense of her identity because of the knowledge that her community shared with her. She told Marie Claire (2019) that this also made her “...not only highly aware of how differently we all lived, but how many were let down by a government that was supposed to represent them.” Miranda (2019) continued on to say that, “Most non-Indigenous people are very aware of how many deaths there are in the community, they are aware of the gap in health and education.” This gap in the health and education system let her community down significantly. She informed Marie Claire (2019) that although she had it a lot easier than other Aboriginal kids she went to school with, this gap still affects her and her family to this day:
“I was just a kid, but still, too much of my time was spent going to funerals. Most of my family members pass before the age of 60. To this day, I still have to say goodbye to loved ones too frequently.”
Miranda Tapsell in Marie Claire’s February 2020 spread for the ‘It’s Time Campaign.’ Courtesy of Marie Claire, 2021.
Miranda told Marie Claire (2019) that she doesn’t pretend to speak on behalf of her community, but she is aware of the platform that she has, so she takes the opportunity to be honest about what she sees and hears. She feels frustrated that, at the age of 32-years old now, this gap is still not closed, and there is still no recognition or reconciliation for her people. Miranda admits that when she does get frustrated:
“...I think about Aunty Pat Anderson, an Alyawarre woman who’s one of the co-chairs of the Uluru Statement from the Heart and a leader in social justice. She has been on the frontlines for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people for too many years; I can’t imagine how exasperated she must feel.”
In regards to the constitution debacle, Miranda told Marie Claire (2019):
“We know we need to reckon with this as a nation, but we still haven’t. I don’t understand how advancing Aboriginal people’s autonomy over their own lives comes at the exclusion of the non-Aboriginal people – but that’s the impression I am given when we talk about it. Something I loved about being in The Sapphires, Black is the New White and Top End Wedding is the way non-Indigenous people could see us not as the ‘other’ but as their equals, even if our perspectives are different.”
Miranda (2019) finished her interview with Marie Claire by highlighting that:
“...most non-Aboriginal citizens forget that the structures on which the colonial parliament was built were never designed to see us. It erased the nation’s first people.Real change doesn’t happen unless everyone pushes for it. As Dean Parkin, Uluru Statement signatory, says, “The voice to parliament is our chance to speak our piece. What we ask today is that you listen and that you take up the call, arm in arm with us.””
Miranda Tapsell (far left), Samantha Harris (far right) and Jessica Mauboy (middle) fronting the February 2020 cover of Marie Claire. Courtesy of Marie Claire 2021.
It is excellent to see that Marie Claire, such a prestige magazine, has graced us with three proud Indigenous women on their cover, and is informing the wider Australian population of this ongoing issue of First Nations Australians not being acknowledged in the Australian Constitution. Truly, it is beautiful to see more culturally diverse representation on such a mainstream media platform. At Yarn we are all for sharing this news and supporting Indigenous representation in the media and especially the constitution.
So, “From Australia’s heart to yours, let’s support this constitutional change, and begin our journey to a better Australia” (Uluru Statement, 2017).
Keep your eyes peeled for an upcoming article about the Uluru Statement and the history that’s prompted this much needed movement.