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Aborigines take on whites in glamour stakes

Aborigines take on whites in glamour stakes

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Drunk, stoned and on walkabout?

Australia's Aborigines are fed up with the stereotypes dogging the vast island-continent's original inhabitants and are taking on the white man where it hurts - in the glamour stakes.

Two young indigenous women have produced Australia's first all-Aborigine pin-up calendar to show the world that they are beautiful and sexy too, causing a stir in a society where centuries of prejudice mean some Australians still regard them as Stone Age relics.

"There's a lack of indigenous models in Australia. It's always your typical blond hair and blue eyes," said Liza Fraser-Gooda, 26, one of the founders of Jinnali Productions, which launched the 2001 calendar in December.

"What we're trying to do is break down those barriers and say, hey, here we are, we are beautiful, give us the opportunity and we'll show the world what the true indigenous Australians are," Fraser-Gooda told Reuters on Monday.

Aboriginal Australians have been second-class citizens since Britain set up a penal colony in 1788, having declared the continent "terra nullius," or an empty land, therefore allowing it to be claimed by the Crown as its own.

Between the 1920s and 1960s, the government imposed a policy of forced assimilation of light-skinned Aboriginal children, who were taken from their families to live in the white community.

The lot of Australia's 400,000 Aborigines - 2.1 percent of the population - has improved since they were recognised as citizens with rights in a 1967 Constitutional amendment. Previously they were administered under flora and fauna laws.

ROLE MODELS

Athlete Cathy Freeman, gold medalist and home-grown star of the Sydney Olympics, gave the community's profile a huge boost at home and abroad.

But the life expectancy of Aboriginal Australians remains 20 years less than the average and many live in ghettos where drug and alcohol abuse are rife.

Fraser-Gooda and her cover-girl partner Dina Paulson, 31, say their calendar grew out of the desire to build self-confidence among young indigenous Australians, and to open doors into the white man's world of modelling and promotions.

"People think Aborigines are drunks, they go walkabout, they don't want to achieve," said Paulson.

The image of drugs and alcohol in the park that prevails is just not the case, said Fraser-Gooda.

"We are beautiful, we are also intelligent. We just have to go out and show ourselves that way," she said.

The calendar featuring 14 Aboriginal models was produced on a shoe-string budget. The main photographer was a first-year photography student. The sponsors were mainly Aboriginal organisations. The quality is not brilliant, but it's a start, say the producers, who aim to make it an annual issue.

The tribes and tribal totems of the models are listed, and permission was sought from tribal elders. Three had previous modelling experience, including 16-year-old Aliera French, who took part in an Australian Fashion Show tour of Europe last year. The rest were amateurs.

The calendar is being sold on the Internet through the Website of Jinnali Productions ((http://www.jinnali.com.au)) and costs A$24.45 (around US$14) including postage and sales tax.

TRADITION MEETS THE MODERN WORLD

The initial 1,000 copy print run has virtually sold out and Jinnali, which means "full moon", plans to print 1,000 more to meet demand, including orders from Europe and the United States.

The publication of Australia's first-ever Aboriginal pin-up calendar has not gone without criticism. The main complaint has been that the models "can't be Aboriginal" because they are too good-looking, or too light-skinned, a reaction that infuriates Fraser-Gooda and Paulson, as well as the models.

"The blood that runs through our veins is what makes us Aboriginal. The stories that are passed down from our elders is what makes us Aboriginal. I grew up in an Aboriginal community. I'm not anything else but an Aboriginal person," said Paulson.

As for criticism that a calendar of scantily clad models may not exactly be an affirmation of traditional Aboriginal values, Fraser-Gooda makes no apologies.

"Times are changing," she said. "We've got to learn to change with the times and have our culture in a modern way, but still respect our protocol, our culture and our values, and we've done that by acknowledging our tribes and totems." And, adds Paulson, by "getting the respect of our elders".


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