Majestic images of Arabuna people seen through cultural lens

By Te Rina Kowhai

Self-taught aboriginal photographer Colleen Raven has committed half the decade capturing the stories of her people. Her recent photos went viral reaching over 250,000 people in her one post alone.

Ms Raven told Te Kāea, “I said to the ladies I said right do you want to make this go viral. Because I like to show off, I love to show off our culture and if you give me a chance, I will make it go viral and it did, it went crazy.”

Seeing through a culture lens comes naturally for this Arabuna woman.

“Birthing normally happens you know near trees or in a specific place in aboriginal culture, so it was really good that we managed to capture that in all its strength and glory.”

Through perseverance, the mother of three taught herself photography while looking after her two young boys.

“At the start, I wanted to give up so many times I was so frustrated but I just kept pushing my way through it again YouTube, YouTube, YouTube.”

Previously a dental therapist, in 2012 Ms Raven embarked the photography practice around the same time when the Arabuna people were granted native title over their Lake Eyre or Kati Thanda.

“Having that come back to our people was a huge celebration but also sad too because we've lost a lot of elders that were quite important that missed out on seeing that handover.”

For the Arabuna people, the lake is a spiritual place holding their dreaming stories.

“What that photo tells a story of is that we are the keepers of the lake. We have to look after the lake. When I take a photo, when I see their faces light up and they see themselves in the way that I see it, it's amazing the whole atmosphere changes. They go from quite shy to styling up to what they do when they're taking a selfie.”

Ms Raven says it's important for her to tell her own stories of her own people.

“You get a lot of non-indigenous people coming into our community taking photos. Normally it would be the disparity, it will be all the negative stereotypes sometimes but I want to go in and take photos that uplift and empower us. Not only us but also to show the world that we are still here. We are still practising our culture, we are still strong and that we are beautiful people who are strong in our knowledge and culture.”