Contact Australia Series:
A Portrait Collection of Indigenous Peoples

First, I would like to acknowledge the Gadigal of the Eora Nation and the Wurundjeri people, the traditional custodians of Sydney and Melbourne for which this series was photographed on, and pay my respects to the Elders both past and present.

2020 marks the year of “First Contact” in Australia, and with this series I wanted to focus on Indigenous peoples and the contact we currently have with one another. The portraits how the diversity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders who currently and have always called what is currently known as Australia, home. Additionally, over the 2 years I spent in Australia, I met many other Indigenous peoples from elsewhere who now call Australia home.

The people in this series I met through a variety of ways. Some I met through friends, others at events, and many through social media whether it was Facebook/Twitter/Instagram. The thing that linked us was being Indigenous and having a respect and understanding of each other, a commonality.

I have been able to build relationships with a vast network of Indigenous Peoples now, which has been what made my experience in Australia so amazing. In this series you will see people of a variety of backgrounds, with a wide range of skin tones and looks. Some may challenge your perception of what Aboriginal people look like, or other Indigenous groups, or who is Indigenous.

In 2020, Indigenous Peoples exist as athletes, doctors, lawyers, singers, musicians, directors, students, playwrights, caregivers, activists, actors, among a plethora of other things. These are just a few of the identities people in this series hold.

Over the next few weeks I will be sharing portraits from the series, so keep checking back.

Miigwech/Thank you,

John Paillé

Aboriginal, Australia, Gunai, Gooreng Gooreng, Gunditjmara

Medika Thorpe.

Gunai, Gunditjmara and Gooreng Gooreng.

I first met Medika in Toronto while she was working for

imagineNative. Medika was instrumental in connecting me with the Aboriginal community in Sydney where she grew up. She works within the arts helping Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders talent in film and television.

A great example of an Aboriginal woman working in community, supporting other Indigenous peoples.

Aboriginal, Australia, Wiradjuri, Queer, LGBTQ

Mitch Hibbens.

Photographed in Naarm (Melbourne) while visiting from Sydney. Mitch is Wiradjuri, which is the largest nation within New South Wales. Mitch and I met through twitter, which has been a great way for Indigenous peoples to connect and communicate. It was great catching up in person and love the images of him I was able to capture. 
Torres Strait Islander, TSI, Torres Strait, Australia, Actor

Iya Ware.

Torres Strait Islander and Bissau-Guinean (Africa).

The Torres Strait is a grouping of over 200 islands between Australia and Papua New Guinea, and the peoples, Torres Strait Islanders are distinct from Aboriginal peoples in Australia. Similar to how the Inuit are distinct from First Nations in Canada.

I met Iya shortly after seeing her perform in the play Te Molimau, a play directed by and starring Indigenous peoples while it was in Sydney. I always enjoy meeting and photographing other Indigenous creatives. It’s refreshing to learn how others got their start and where they hope to go. Some grew up surrounded by the arts, having parents that are artists as well, while others are the first in the families to make a go as artists.

Chi miigwech to Iya for taking the time for posing for the series, and to Emele Ugavule for sharing my posts looking for people to post, resulting in Iya and I connecting.

Aboriginal, South Sea Islander, Yidinji, Birri Gubba, Australia, Actor

Jeremy Ambrum

Yidinji, Birri Gubba, and South Sea Islander.

I met Jeremy while he was starring in the play, City of Gold. One of the many talented Aboriginal actors in Sydney. The play, written by actor and first time playwright Meyne Wyatt. The play focused on events unfolding in an Aboriginal family, starring Jeremy, Meyne, Shari Sebbens, and Mathew Cooper. His performance was one to remember (as they all were) in a play that focuses on the racism and police brutality experienced by Aboriginal people in Australia.

Jeremy and I met up in Redfern, known as the Aboriginal neighbourhood in Sydney. A fitting place to photograph members of the Aboriginal community. I very much look forward to seeing what roles he does in the future.

#Aboriginal #SouthSeaIslander #Yidinji #BirriGubba #Australia #Indigenous #FirstNations #IndigenousPortraitSeries #ContactAustraliaSeries #Portrait #Photography #Redfern #Sydney #Actor #Theatre


Elaine Crombie

Pitjanjtajtarra, Warrigmal, South Sea Islander

Elaine is one of the people I met originally through Facebook before we met in person. I got a friend request with a message that read, “Hi John, I saw your profile pic and saw you had such an open spirit and face and that we have several mutual friends.” I think most people that know Elaine, know how friendly, caring, and outgoing she is. Known for her roles Black Comedy, Redfern now, Top End Wedding, as well as her the many theatre productions she’s been in. In 2019 she won the Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role in a Musical at the Helpmann Awards.

We met for photos after she filmed an episode of Faboriginal on NITV. We had a great chat about the arts, being Indigenous and the commonalities we have among our peoples, such as the importance of family. She’s a dedicated mother, auntie, sis, to many.

I think many that know her will agree that this portrait captures her essence. The talent this woman has is astounding. Always puts a smile on my face seeing the amazing things she does.

#Pitjanjtajtarra #Warrigmal #South Sea Islander #Aboriginal #Australia #IndigenousPortraitSeries #ContactAustraliaSeries #Indigenous #FirstNations #Woman #Actor #Singer #Songwriter #Performer #Portrait #Photography

Aboriginal, Palawa, LGBTQ

Kevin Leeder


Kevin is Palawa, Aboriginal peoples from Tasmania. He is Melbourne-based where he works as a Culture and Capability Business Partner with the Australian Red Cross. An active advocate for Aboriginal peoples. It was interesting learning about his family history as well as the complicated and difficult history of Aboriginal/settler interactions.

#Aboriginal #Palawa #Indigenous #IndigenousPortraitSeries #ContactAustraliaSeries #Melbourne #portrait #photography #canon #man #muscle #Australia #FirstNations

Wardaman, Wagadagam, Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander, Indigenous, First Nations

Kyana Imari Hubbard

Wardaman, Wagadagam

Kyana contacted me after seeing a post for the series, and was interested in posing for the series. She also brought her brother who was also interested in posing for the series. We met at the Redfern Community Centre to start. Kyana and her brother Xavier are from Darwin, in the Northern Territory, however, both are now living in Sydney. Kyana was studying social work at the time, and is now working in social work in a hospital. One of the front line workers during this time.

Kyana was telling her brother and I about how when she was in school, they did a class trip to Sydney from Darwin, and the Block in Redfern was one of the places they went to visit, so it was a neat to be back in the same spot that was this known place for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders from elsewhere in Australia as well.

Kyana’s portraits turned out great.So glad to have met her.

#Aboriginal #TorresStraitIslander #ATSI #Wardaman #Wagadagam #Indigenous #FirstNations #IndigenousPortraitSeries #ContactAustraliaSeries #Redfern #Sydney #MabaiugIsland #KatherineRivers #Darwin #Australia #Woman #Photography #Canon #Style #Fashion #Beauty #SocialWork


Siblings, Xavier Hubbard and Kyana Imari Hubbard.

Wardaman, Wagadagam


Xavier Hubbard

Wadarman, Wagadagam

Xavier is the younger brother of Kyana from the the previous two posts. Xavier is an actor and student based in Sydney. He makes an appearance in Briggs Life is Incredible music video.

Xavier is Wadarman from the Katherine Rivers region, and Wagadagam clan from Mabaiug Island in the Torres Strait.

One of the things I really enjoyed about shooting this series was meeting so many new Indigenous people. I had never met Xavier or Kyana prior to the shoot, and both were so relaxed and friendly that it was easy to forget we had just met.

#Aboriginal #TorresStraitIslander #ATSI #Wardaman #Wagadagam #Indigenous #FirstNations #IndigenousPortraitSeries #ContactAustraliaSeries #Redfern #Sydney #MabaiugIsland #KatherineRivers #Darwin #Australia #man #Blackman #Photography #Canon #Style #Actor 

Wuthathi, Torres Strait Islander, Aboriginal

Jacqueline “Jax” Compton

Wuthathi (East Cape York Peninsula), Torres Strait (Thursday, Badu, and Moa Islands)

I met Jax through my flatmate Medika. They’ve known each other for years through dance, both being on the show Move it Mob Style. Jax is one of the many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders in Australia to attend the National Aboriginal Islander Skills Development Association (NAISDA) Dance College. Jax along with her husband created the Muggera cultural performance company, who have performed at Yabun and Homeground Festivals in Sydney as well as for many other events and organizations.

Jax also works for 33 Creative, an Aboriginal agency specializing in media, communications, and large/small event management where she works as the Community Engagement and Events Manager. Jax also hosts a video series for The Real where she interviews various Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders like actor Rarriwuy Hick, NBA player Patrick Mills, or artist Otis Carey.

#Aboriginal #TorresStraitIslander #ATSI #Wuthathi #ThursdayIsland #BaduIsland #MoaIsland #TorresStrait #Indigenous #FirstNations #IndigenousPortraitSeries #ContactAustraliaSeries #woman #Alexandria #Sydney #Muggera #TheReal #Australia #dance #dancer #Photography #Canon

#Yamatji #Wongatha #Aboriginal

Meyne Wyatt

Yamatji and Wongatha nations in Western Australia

Meyne’s an actor based in Sydney. He’s known for roles in the films The Sapphires, Strangerland, tv shows, Redfern Now, Black Comedy, Wentworth, Mystery Road and Neighbours where he was the first Indigenous actor to join the main cast.

Meyne also performs in theatre. More recently, Meyne was getting his attention for his playwright debut and leading role in City of Gold. A play written about his experiences growing up in Kargoolie and the racism Aboriginal people face in Australia. The role earned him the Best Male Actor in a Leading Role in a MainStage Production at the Sydney Theatre Awards (along with co-star Shari Sebbins winning Best Female Actor in a Supporting Role). The play got rave reviews, I just only managed to snag tickets to see it, with it selling out every night. I even saw Andrew Lincoln from the Walking Dead and Love Actually fame at the play.

Meyne was one of the first people I met in Australia at Winda Film Festival, an Indigenous Film Festival in Sydney along with actors Rarriwuy Hick and Guy Simon. I walked up and introduced myself having recognized him from Redfern Now and Black Comedy, both shows I had watched prior to moving to Australia. All 3 were friendly and funny. Every time I’ve seen Meyne since has been full of laughter. Miigwech for posing for the series!

#Yamatji #Wongatha #Aboriginal #WesternAustralia #WA #Kargoolie #Australia #IndigenousPortraitSeries #ContactAustraliaSeries #Actor #Playwright #Film #Tv #Theatre #Sydney #Newtown #man #Portrait #Canon

#Aboriginal #Gunditjmara #GoorengGooreng #Gunai #Australia #journalist

Nakari Thorpe
Gunai, Gunditjmara and Gooreng Gooreng

Nakari is a journalist who many in Australia may recognize from NITV and SBS news.

We first met Christmas dinner 2017 when I was invited by her sister Medika to join the family for dinner for my first Christmas away from home. Since then its been amazing to get to know her and see her grow in her career. Just like her sister, she’s kind, caring, and just all around an amazing person. Can’t wait to see what she does in the future. 
Cree, Metis

Jonathon Potskin.

Cree from Sawridge First Nation and Métis from Alberta.

Jonathon had been living in Australia off and on when I took his portrait. He did a Masters in Canberra and was working on his PhD in Sydney. We first met during the WindaFilmFest in 2017 where we were both volunteering. “His research is in the area of Indigenous Research Methodologies and research on Indigenous Youth and Hip Hop culture in Canada and Australia” which is a fascinating way to look at and compare the way Indigenous youth in Canada and Australia both connect with hip hop.

Throughout his time in Australia, Jonathon was able to find his place within the Aboriginal community wherever he lived with many now considered friends and family. Now he’s back in Canada, working as the Interim National Coordinator - Research Analyst for the Metro Vancouver Aboriginal Executive Council. If you’re looking for any recommendations on Indigenous hip hop, ask Jon.

#Cree #Nehiyaw #Metis #2S #TwoSpirit #FirstNations #Indigenous #ContactAustraliaSeries #portrait #gay #man #Australia #Canada #Academic #Canon


Véronik Picard.
Huron-Wendat from Wendake in Quebec.

Véronik was on exchange studying at the University of Technology Sydney when we met for me to take her portrait. While in Sydney, Véronik worked at the Consulate General of Canada, Sydney. That is where we met, she was on the Trade team, and I was on the Immigration Team. It was nice having another Indigenous person around the office. With experience working in Indigenous tourism in Quebec, she now works as a journalist for CBC/Radio-Canada.

Blackfoot, First Nation, 2Spirit

Ché Baines.
Blackfoot (Siksika Nation) from Alberta.

I met Ché randomly one day outside Town Hall station in Sydney. I was meeting up with Jonathon Potskin and Jon mentioned having just met another First Nations person around the corner. We walked over and Ché was taking part in a protest for Indigenous rights. They’ve done solidarity protests in Sydney for events happening in Canada.

Like Jonathan and Véronik, Ché also came from Canada and is studying while in Sydney. Ché is one of the many First Nations people from Canada I met in Sydney that now call Sydney and surrounding area home. We even had a gathering of us on Survival Day with about 15 First Nations people from Canada in attendance. 
Aboriginal, African American, Kuku Yalanji, Wuthathi

Majeda Beatty.
KuKu Yalanji and Wuthathi from Far North Queensland and African American.

Based in Sydney, Majeda is an actor, singer, dancer who I first met back in 2018 through some mutual people we knew. Over the next year I saw her perform as part of an Aboriginal family dance group in Sydney several times. We connected again when doing some audio work for a television show.

It was great chatting with Majeda about being Aboriginal and African American, living in Sydney, and working in the film and television industry. For many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander actors, it’s a struggle with so few roles being created in the mainstream world for them, or offered to them. There’s a lot of amazing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander talent and productions in Australia, but there could still be more representation on mainstream shows. Not just the supporting roles, but the lead roles as well.

We met up in Newtown for photos. It was one of my favourite spots in Sydney. I really like photographing people in neighbourhoods they know. There’s always stories like, “oh when I was young I remember going there”, or pointing out their favourite cafes/restaurants, or where someone went to school, etc. It was great walking through the streets and parks. She’s a natural in front of the camera, and I’m really happy with the portraits I was able to take of her


Joseph Cardona.
Malak Malak in the Northern Territory, and Badu Island Torres Strait Islander.

Born and raised in Darwin, Joseph now lives in Sydney where works as a project manager with the Australian Film Television and Radio School in Sydney. However, many know Joseph as his drag person @josie_bakerofficial , his drag persona, named after Josephine Baker. Winner of inaugural Miss First Nation 2017, an annual Indigenous Drag competition in Australia. He started as a backup dancer at clubs in Darwin before crossing over into drag. Joseph can be seen in the documentary Black Divaz about the Miss First Nations competition.

More recently Joseph even travelled to Greece last year to help Sydney win host of World Pride 2023 where he performed as Josie Baker for their bid for host. 

Waradjuri, Yorta Yorta, Gunai

Candace Williams.
Waradjuri, Yorta Yorta and Gunai.

Candace is based in Melbourne where she is studying her Bachelor of Primary Education. I first met Candace back in 2018 when she was up visiting my flatmate Medika. She’s cousin with both Medika and Nakari who are both featured in this series. Since then I’ve seen Candace several times, giving me the chance to get to know her better. She is kind, smart, and amazing to be around.

This photo was taken up in Tuggerah, New South Wales in October 2019. We were attending the “Koori Knockout”, an annual NSW Koori Rugby League Knockout Carnival. It’s a must attend event for Aboriginal people, with over 30,000 players and fans attending to watch teams from all over the state coming to compete for the Koori Knockout title over a few days. I had the best time with Candace, Medika, and Nakari at the Knockout. It was amazing being around that many Indigenous People and the energy of everyone was amazing. There was even a skydiver who glided in with a giant Aboriginal flag waving.

Grateful to have met Candace while in Australia and to have made some of these memories with her. I know we’ll see each other again in the future.

Gomeroi, Aboriginal

Marley Nolan-Duncan.
Gomeroi from Moree in New South Wales.

Marley is a professional parachute instructor and sports jumper. He’s the first Indigenous person to make the Australian Skydive team. In the last post, I mentioned someone skydiving into the Koori Knockout with a big Aboriginal flag blowing in the wind, that was Marley. This was taken the same day at the Koori Knockout.

Skydiving is such an amazing feeling. I couldn’t imagine getting to do it for work. Check out his insta to see some of his jumps including ones with the Aboriginal Flag.

Larrakia, Aboriginal

Miranda Tapsell.

Larrakia from the Northern Territory.

Miranda is an actor, writer, producer, and most recently author. One of the many talented Aboriginal people to come out of Darwin and the NT. I first saw Miranda in the film, The Sapphires (one of my favourites). Since then she has been in shows like Doctor Doctor, Little J & Big Cuz, Love Child, and last year she starred in a film she wrote, Top End Wedding.

Not only is she fantastic on film and television but just as great on stage. In 2018 I saw her in the play Black is the New White, a stellar play about the relationships between Aboriginal people and settler Australians with an amazing cast.

Just this week she released her memoir Top End Girl. Highly recommend checking out her work. She’s lovely!

Aboriginal, Kamilaroi

Matty Webb.
Kamilaroi from New South Wales, Australia.

From Tamworth in New South Wales, Matty grew up and is based in Sydney.

I first met Matty in early 2018, and throughout the next couple years saw him at various arts and Aboriginal event. Matty himself has an education in acting before getting into the television industry. Matty has hosted red carpet interviews for the National Indigenous Television (NITV) for the ARIA awards, the Dreamtime Awards, as well hosting NITV’s coverage of Mardi Gras.

Matty and I met up in Erskineville for a coffee before we started photos. It was great to catch up with him outside of a big social event. He’s one of the people I had in mind when I was thinking who to photograph for this series and was pleased he was willing to take part. We walked around Erskineville and Newtown talking music, arts, etc and got some really nice shots of him.

Kalkadoon, South Sea Islander, Aboriginal

Peta MacGillivray.
Kalkadoon (Mount Isa region of Queensland) and South Sea Islander

Originally from Rockhampton in Queensland but now based in Sydney.

Peta works as a Partnership Manager for Yuwaya Ngarra-li, a partnership initiative between the Dharriwaa Elders Group in Walgett, New South Wales and the University of New South Wales. She is also finishing her Masters of Laws in Criminal Justice and Criminology, is an elected Director of the Aboriginal Legal Service NSW/ACT, and does advocacy for Indigenous peoples with disabilities in the criminal justice system. Doing real deadly work!

I first met Peta in August last year at a taping of NITV’s Faboriginal, a game show testing contestants knowledge about Indigenous art, but we were already following each other on social media so it felt like we had already met. Early one October morning Peta, her sister Yale, and I met up at Coogee Beach to photograph some portraits with the beautiful morning sun. I had such great time doing these photos with them and loved doing photos down at the ocean.

Kalkadoon, South Sea Islander, Aboriginal, Sisters

Sisters Yale MacGillivray and Peta MacGillivray.
Kalkadoon and South Sea Islander.

Kalkadoon, South Sea Islander, Aboriginal

Yale MacGillivray.
Kalkadoon (Mount Isa region of Queensland) and South Sea Islander

I first met Yale back in early 2018 at birthday through some mutual friends and over the next 2 years saw her at various events around Sydney. Yale works as a Digital Producer for the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) in Sydney where she started as a Production Assistant, with previous experience being a New Media Producer for the National Centre of Indigenous Excellence (NCIE) in Sydney. Her job at the ABC sounded great when discussing it with her. The ABC has had some great Indigenous content in recent years (Black Comedy, Cleverman, Redfern Now) so it’s really cool to see Yale working in this industry for a mainstream channel that has great Indigenous representation.

In an article from the Guardian in 2015, Yale was interviewed and said “each day I am continuously working towards becoming a great storyteller who has the ability to share our people’s stories in the best possible way.” Then, in 2018, Yale won the Walkley Award for Coverage of Indigenous Affairs with Allan Clarke for Unravel: Blood on the Tracks, an investigation into the 1988 death of an Aboriginal man (can be found on Apple Podcasts app). The MacGillivray family is sure doing some great work for community.


Jonathan Jeffrey.
Larrakia Nation in the Northern Territory.

One of the most vibrant and infection people. He is highly passionate about chasing your dreams and spreading positive messages to inspire others to feel good about themselves. A naturally talented dancer, writer and mentor, Jonathan’s personality is characterised by his ability to care and encourage others.

Now based in Sydney, Jonathan is currently the host/producer of his own digital platform 'Booty Boylesque'.
#BootyBoylesque #Budjulicious

Torres Strait Islander, Kuku Yalanji,  South Sea Islander, Ashanti

Kaiya Aboagye.
Torres Strait Islander from Erub Island, Kuku Yalanji in Far North Queensland, South Sea Islander (Vanuatu), and Ashanti (Ghana).

Kaiya is a PhD student at the University of Sydney where she is researching the relationship of Indigenous Peoples and the Africa diaspora community. She also lectures an Indigenous studies class at the university. Kaiya and I met up on the University of Sydney to take photos.


Jack Steele.
Wiradjuri man from Orange, NSW, Australia.

Jack is a director based in Sydney. Jack and I first met back in 2018 at his family Easter weekend, even found out we had some mutual friends in Sydney. The Steele family is fantastic! Later in the year, I did some extra work and behind the scenes photos in a short film, ‘Between Two Lines’ that Jack had written and was directing as part of Screen Australia’s Black Shorts program which premiered last year at Sydney Film Festival. In addition to his short film, Jack has directed commercials, and more recently 3 episodes of Drunk History.

Fun fact about Jack, he’s a great cook! Showed up with 2 chickens to bbq at my going away party that were tasty as.


Rebekah Hatfield.
Bundjalung, Darambal & Wiradjuri.

Rebekah works as a Student Advocate & Advisor for the Sydney University Postgraduate Student Union and is an emerging filmmaker.She recently launched her business Ngoodjida Media in March of this year. Ngoodjida’ means ‘understand’ in the Darumbal language. This is the ethos of the work Rebekah and Ngoodjida create - sharing diverse First Nations content, in the hope you will learn and appreciate our culture.

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