This photograph is part of the Grounded series, produced for the 2014 Glasgow Commonwealth Games and then toured in Australia from 2015 to 2019.
It is not a pleasing refined image but it is not meant to be. I am in the back of an Australian police van and it is rough and hot and late at night and I am trying to call for assistance. The desert is in here with me but its gentle whisper and open sky are not. Am I looking in at, or out from, life as it is for Aboriginal people ? - I no longer know after I am taken into custody.
I am in the Northern Territory of Australia researching material for Grounded, an exhibition for the 2014 Commonwealth Games. I want to gain a better understanding of contemporary life for Aboriginal people and I am being given a taste - and the taste is sour.
I spent seven hours overnight in a cell for trying to check on the wellbeing of a colleague. My colleague, who works locally supporting Aboriginal people, was being arrested after approaching police to ask after the wellbeing of some elderly Aboriginal women, who were calling out in distress as they were arrested. They had had a few drinks but appeared to pose no threat.
“Protective custody” is a police power in the Northern Territory, which enables police to apprehend an Aboriginal person who is intoxicated and incarcerate them until they are sober. It is a controversial law. There is an overrepresentation of Aboriginal people in the prison system, which is hurting families and communities.
On arriving at the jail I am frisked, and all my possessions are taken away. My shoes are removed and I am left barefoot. I am given a green toweling blanket, a heavy-duty sheet and a foam mattress. I am walked down the corridor to the cell.
I ask for a phone call and information on how long I can be held without a charge. I get no reply. I am photographed from all angles, all my fingerprints are taken and the palms prints of my hands. At 1.30am I am issued with a bail statement. $500 if I don’t appear in court on Monday morning at 10am.
It is 2.30am when I am released into the dark and empty streets of Alice Springs, the ‘crime capital’ of Australia, where I have been told not to walk alone at night. In court on Monday the bail conditions are dropped. The police have ‘lost’ their paperwork.
This firsthand experience illustrates the overzealous approach to arrest and detention by the Northern Territory police, when it comes to matters relating to the Aboriginal population.
The 'Grounded' exhibition addresses issues around the marginalisation of Australian Aboriginal people, their loss of land and language, and how their way of life has been destroyed by a culture with little respect for land and environment. These photographs are paired with stories and photographs from the Gaelic speaking Outer Hebrides of Scotland.