Queensland Small Towns: Photo-documentary Project


Often forgotten Queenslanders – both people and places – brought into focus last month, with the exhibition of more than 100 photographs, stories and video portraits at the Brisbane Powerhouse.

The Queensland Small Towns: Photo-documentary project exhibition showcased stories inspired by people living and working in Dalby and Moranbah – two rural Queensland towns engaged in mining and coal seam gas production.

Earle Bridger, Queensland Collage of Art Deputy Director (Development), coordinated the project with the assistance of an Arts Queensland Creative Partnership Grant. Bridger previously worked as a news photographer both in Australia and overseas. He is currently a Senior Lecturer at QCA and has several of his own works featured in the project.

The project was a collaboration between three Brisbane universities: Queensland College of Art at Griffith University, University of Queensland School of Journalism and Communication and the Queensland University of Technology. The photographers included staff and students, with a few professional photographers also in the mix.

The subject matter varied greatly, although the framing and presentation maintained a unity throughout. The exhibition was peppered with iconic images of the bush such as Akubras, Wrangler jeans, trailers, mullets, utes, old hotels and empty rum and coke cans.

An unexpected portrait of an older tattooed gentleman, wearing a dress and wig commanded a closer inspection. The label next to the portrait informed us that this was Sofia Stockman, a Dalby local who teaches guitar and sings in the church choir. This portrait, by Liss Fenwick, had a powerful presence that lingered – a reminder that the expected and unexpected live side by side in every small rural town.

Jacqueline Bawtree’s quiet and intimate photographic essay of regional health services showed staff working hard with limited resources. The health care facility recently lost workers to the local mining industry. Bawtree’s work is an excellent example of the far-reaching effects mining has in a small town economy.

One of the most engaging and poignant visual essays of all was by photojournalism heavyweight, ShehabUddin of Steven Ansford. He captured his partner Judy and their two children living on social welfare with limited facilities. The photograph of the family sitting down together for dinner, in what appears to be a tin shed with not much else, provided a humbling glimpse into life on the edge.

There were several intriguing short films on offer, one of which featured Dalby’s oldest resident by AmieeHourigan; and another by Jesse Thompson showing a homosexual couple’s experience raising their family in the same town. This medium provided an engaging platform for subjects to voice their own narratives.

If people missed this little gem of a show at the Brisbane Powerhouse, do not fret because the photographs are currently part of the Queensland State Library’s permanent collection, retained for the benefit of future viewings.

It will certainly be interesting to see how this exhibition might inspire similar photographic projects, allowing us to discover may come from another cultural detour into rural Queensland where residents face equally challenging social and economic issues.

Image : Alban Vinevel – Moranbah. Courtesy of The Powerhouse Museum

Written by Vanessa Bertagnole

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