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Portrait of Jawoyn Elder, Margaret Katherine
, 2015

by John Gollings

inkjet print (frame: 102.7 cm x 142.7 cm depth 4.5 cm, sheet: 83.0 cm x 112.0 cm, image: 60.0 cm x 90.0 cm)

Margaret Katherine (d. 2018), a Jawoyn woman from the Buyhmi clan group (Duwar moiety), was born at Joe’s Garden east of Katherine (now part of the Jawoyn Aboriginal Land Trust). Although she lived in the Katherine region all her life, her traditional country was the Dalakngalarr area of the Mann River. She spent her early childhood walking the country with her mother and father, hunting, trapping and eating bush tucker. With them, at that time, was a brother who was later removed by government authorities. She never attended school, learning everything about her culture, language and traditions from her grandfather, father and mother. When Margaret was about 8 years old, her mother and father went to Katherine to work at a local store and they lived at the store for a while. Later they moved to Maude Creek near Katherine Gorge and spent time walking the country, hunting and fishing around Katherine and the Donkey Camp areas. When she was a young teenager, she worked at the Katherine Hospital, walking a long way from home to carry out laundry work. In about 1960 the police made the family move to Beswick Creek, which later became Bamyili and is now Barunga; she lived there for the rest of her life. She was a senior Jawoyn Elder and sat on the Jawoyn Council of Elders. She spoke Kriol, Jawoyn, Mialli, English and Ngalkbon. She co-authored many books on Jawoyn culture, language, plants, animals and traditions, and appeared in the ABC series First Footprints.

John Gollings photographed Margaret Katherine in the Narwala Gabarnmung Rock Shelter in a remote area of Arnhem Land. Archaeologists first investigated the inaccessible shelter in 2010. A fragment of an axe found there has been dated at 35 500 years, making it the oldest artefact of its kind known in the world. Art in the shelter dates back at least 28 000 years. In 2012 the Smithsonian magazine ran an article by Colin Schutz entitled ‘Is This the Oldest Cave Art on the Planet?’ Schutz wrote 'The most important thing about the Gabarnmung cave paintings . . . is not their age, not their colour or their splendour or their intricacy. It’s that the Jawoyn people, the descendants of the ancient civilization that created the works, are still alive. For the Jawoyn . . . the paintings, tools, spears, ochre-anointed skulls and bones are their history.'

John Gollings, a Melbourne-based photographer, specialises in documentation of architecture and the built environment, in both modern and ancient places worldwide. He made his first photographs and received darkroom tuition at the age of eleven; later, he studied arts and architecture at Melbourne University and RMIT. By 1967 he had begun work as a freelance advertising photographer specialising in fashion. Gradually he obtained large-scale location work and travel accounts, and architectural photography became the dominant aspect of his practice. In 1976 he received private tuition from Ansel Adams in his darkroom at Carmel, California. He has taught the use of large format cameras, and lectured on architecture and advertising photography at Prahran College, Melbourne and Sydney universities and Philip Institute amongst others. Recently he has spent more time on longer-term projects with academic or cultural significance for books, exhibitions and fine prints. When not in Asia, photographing hotels, resorts and buildings as well as such ancient sites as Angkor Wat and Vijayanagara, he operates from a collaborative design, photography and 3D rendering studio in Melbourne.

Collection: National Portrait Gallery, Canberra
Gift of the artist 2017
Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program
Accession number: 2017.137