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Unfinished Business – the stories of people with disability from Australian First Nation communities

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Close up image of Aboriginal woman with face in hands, mouth closed and staring directly into camera.
Aunty Gayle Rankine, Ngarrindjeri woman and Chairperson of First Peoples Disability Network Australia
1 Dec 2017

In 2010, international human rights photographer Belinda Mason was invited by the World Health Organisation to create a ‘visual’ document of disability in Australia.

She found the rate of disability in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities to be alarmingly high - almost 50% of the population live with a disability or a long-term health condition. As a result, she spent the next 3 years creating ‘Unfinished Business’ a photographic exhibition featuring 30 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people with disability.

Incorporating 3D holographic, voice, video and text elements, the exhibition was launched in September 2013 at the Palais des Nations in Geneva, Switzerland. Three months later, it moved to the World Health Organisation headquarters in the same city.

In 2014, the exhibition crossed the Atlantic and opened in the Museum of Tolerance, New York. It has been touring Australian cities and regional centres since then, opening in Canberra on 1 December.

‘The power of Unfinished Business is in the stories of the thirty participants,’ Belinda said.

‘Their stories, and their experiences of discrimination coupled with indiscriminate racism, form the basis for a new phase of Unfinished Business for stage and screen.”

Ms Mason worked with the participants over 24 months, with each personal story taking up to 46 hours to capture and record.

The exhibition reveals the critical issues that impact their lives. It shows a wide range of disability experiences including acquired, congenital, sensory, psychological, intellectual, visible and invisible.

‘The words unfinished business certainly describes the situation for Australia’s First Nations People with disabilities,’ Belinda said.

‘Colonisation, racism, foetal alcohol spectrum disorder, war, the stolen generation, incarceration, asbestos mining and atomic testing have contributed to the unacceptable high rate of disability in our First Nation communities.”

Featured in the exhibition is the story of Aunty Gayle Rankine, Chairperson of First Peoples Disability Network.

“I am extremely passionate about it. I am here fighting the fight, fighting the fear, fighting the racism. We face a double discrimination: discrimination because of our disability and because of our race. Racism is based from ignorance, I say. But having a disability, you get a double whammy,” Aunty Gayle said.

The exhibition opens on Friday 1 December at the Tuggeranong Arts Centre, ACT, and continues through to 20 January 2018.

Find out more

The Australian Government’s Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade supported the exhibition’s creation and opening in Geneva. The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet is supporting Unfinished Business in Canberra to raise awareness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living with a disability.

For details about the exhibition, go to Unfinished Business.