July 31st, 2019.
Fitzroy, Collingwood and surrounding areas are historically significant for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. They harbour meeting places; act as the cradle of Aboriginal affairs; beat at the heart of social and political activism; the birthplace of important Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander services and organisations; and nurture places where many Stolen Generations found family for the first time.
People came to Fitzroy to connect with the community, they gathered around Atherton Gardens, a place that came to be known as ‘the park’. Those who regularly occupied the parks came to refer to themselves as the ‘Parkies’. For a long time, they have gathered in locations around Fitzroy and Collingwood. This is their meeting place; they come here to share what they have, to feel connected and to tell a story or play a song.
Melbourne-based photographer and musician, James Henry―a Yuwaalaraay and Yorta Yorta man―has been working with the local Parkies to create a series of portraits, The Parkies of Old Fitzroy, to celebrate Aboriginal history and the Parkie identity of this area, and to share stories of the lived experiences of some the Parkies who gather here today.
‘Parkies of Old Fitzroy – Frank’ by James Henry
James has long observed the parallel existence of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people in areas like Fitzroy. He acknowledges that there is a co-existence present that is devoid of the merging of the two cultures as is so prevalent within cultural urban melting pots the world over. Being offered the opportunity, with the City of Yarra, to produce a visual body of work that articulates the narrative and presence of the Parkies is not just a way to work towards bridging that gap but also a way to spotlight local characters that maintain an entrenched yet unsung presence within the local community.
‘Parkies of Old Fitzroy – Tracey’ by James Henry
“Because of the nature of their humble existence, they don’t have these markers of their lives. For others to recognise their lives.”
James has worked within the community for the past 9 years. His body of work has culminated in the Parkies series that poetically and powerfully presents portraits of Parkies in context and in such a way as to resonate with the viewer through the lens and into the streets.
“Give them a chance to be in the spotlight for a bit. A bit of a reminder that Fitzroy is still a prominent part of the Aboriginal community.”
James Henry at the Gertude Street Projection Festival 2019
This exhibition will be presented across a number of platforms. Large-scale posters will be pasted-up throughout the streets of Fitzroy and Collingwood from 20 July to coincide with Smith Street Dreaming; the images will be projected on the corner of Gertrude and George Streets as part of the Gertrude Street Projection Festival from 26 July to 3 August, every night after dark; and a suite of photographs will be featured at Fitzroy Library from 16 August to 8 November.
Images by James Henry.