Hidden stories told in SAM’s latest acquisition

By John Lewis

A young indigenous photographer’s work which reveals disturbing stories of colonial frontier violence, is the subject of Shepparton Art Museum’s latest acquisition.

Hayley Millar-Baker of the Gunditjmara people from far south-western Victoria was at SAM yesterday to talk about her work as part of NAIDOC Week.

Ms Millar-Baker’s piece Untitled (Theft of the White men’s sheep) which SAM has acquired, is one of five works from her A Series of Unwarranted Events picture series which deals with her family stories, many of them handed down to her from her grandfather’s collection of family photos.

‘‘The stories I tell are hidden stories — ones that have been skimmed over or sugar-coated through history. I look for the gaps and then focus in on that,’’ she said.

Ms Millar-Baker’s photographs are multi-layered works created from many images taken during visits to historical sites, some of which were places where violent interactions took place between settlers and indigenous peoples.

The images are built up slowly from her grandfather’s archive, her own collection of photos of animals and landscapes and known sites of historic significance.

‘‘All the stories stem from my family or my mob. They did not have a voice at the time to tell their stories, but I can give them a voice now,’’ she said.

Ms Millar-Baker said she has also spent many hours researching Victorian State Library documents, letters from Aboriginal mission managers, and newspaper accounts of murders, alcoholism and violence.

‘‘During the process it can be stressful and traumatic — reading these journals about horrific things. But it really has to be done, and in the end, it’s quite healing,’’ she said.

Ms Millar Baker was shortlisted for the 2019 John Fries Award for early career visual artists and her work is included in major collections including the Monash Museum of Modern Art, the State Library of Victoria and Warrnambool Art Gallery.

Her work Untitled (Theft of the White men’s sheep) is now on display at SAM.