20 Jul 2017

Indigenous community of Coen flips the roles in violent colonial times.

Cape York Indigenous community of Coen flips the roles in violent colonial photos
RN By Hannah Reich for Books and Arts

PHOTO: Photographer Greg Semu wanted to flip the narrative of victims and victimisers. (Supplied: Greg Semu)


"It was set up to gather the Indigenous people from out in the bush and chain them up and bring them into Coen ... to get them off the country," says artist and Kaantju traditional owner Naomi Hobson.

The Cape York community of Coen, home to just over 300 people, has a violent past as a mining camp and police base.

But in Semu's images the script has been flipped — often the victims pose as abusers.
And the entire Indigenous community of Coen was involved in the recreations.

Scared to speak
PHOTO: Hobson says her community is now talking more openly about its history. (Supplied: Greg Semu)

Today, eight Indigenous clan groups reside in Coen, living alongside a handful of non-Indigenous families who trace their ancestry back to gold miners.

Hobson, who has been based in the town her entire life, says her community has often been unwilling to talk about its past.

"They come from that history where they couldn't speak about where they came from, they couldn't speak their language ... they were treated like cattle basically.

"Just rounded up from the bush and taken into a reserve that was fenced in."

Though Coen's residents have learned to live together, Hobson believes the project, which is on display at the Cairns Art Gallery, has sparked much-needed conversations about the community's brutal past.

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