In late 2014 I was offered an opportunity to work on assignment as the Queen Mother of Bhutan’s personal photographer. I didn’t think twice, I was elated at the gig. Earlier in the year I had visited Bhutan on assignment for the Australian Himalayan Foundation. I visited a range of projects they support through their local partner RENEW. RENEW is a local organization founded by the nation’s Queen Mother and works to support rural education and the empowerment of women and girls.
Bhutan is a fascinating country that when covered in international media is generally portrayed through specific lenses. From a romantic perspective the country is known as the Himalayan nation of happiness while on the contrary it has also been covered for its poor human rights record particularly in regards to the treatment of ethnic Nepalese who have been refused citizenship and live in large camps along the border with Nepal. My time doesn’t offer an insight into the country on the contrary to either narrative regularly told through the media however I did leave feeling that complex is one word I would use to describe the Buddhist nation.
When Queen Mother decided to visit Australia, AHF helped to arrange her trip to Canberra with politicians as well as a busy schedule attending fundraising events with schools, personal supporters and AHF support groups around the country. As her photographer I attended all the public events she did. The pictures here on this blog and appearing in a small zine are a small collection of some of the more interesting moments from the trip.
Moving around from one event to another with the Queen’s entourage was an experience like no other. As our convoy arrived at Sydney’s domestic terminal our chaperone from Virgin naturally struggled to hide her surprise as AHF General Manager Carolyn Hamer-Smith informed her that Her Majesty and entourage had 30 pieces of checked in luggage.
It didn’t take me long to develop a respect for the poise and energy Her Majesty maintained throughout the rigorous trip. An elegant woman she always appeared prepared and energized for her next appointment. It was obvious she has become acquainted to this lifestyle from many years of royal visits but what struck me was her consistent interest in everyone she spent time with.
As I bid farewell to Her Majesty at the international airport in Melbourne her entourage presented me with a special bottle of whisky distilled in the Royal Distillery in Bhutan. I am not sure when I will open the bottle, perhaps the next time I meet a Queen.
The Australian Himalayan Foundation organised her trip to Australia and partner with Her Majesties NGO RENEW in Bhutan to deliver services that specifically support education for girls.
Last night after landing just back in Sydney, Australia, I decided to attend South Sudan’s 4th anniversary celebrations in Blacktown. Celebration, is hardly an apt word to describe the current political landscape or harsh reality for many in the worlds newest nation. The sadness felt by many of the younger generation in Australia’s diaspora is really evident, all you need to do is ask. One young man I know well told me with a sigh, “it wont end, until one or both of these two leaders die (Kiir and Machar)”. A similar sentiment is shared by many of the younger generation I talk to who have now lived longer in Australia than they have in Africa whether it is South Sudan, Kenya, Uganda, Egypt or Ethiopia etc.
The celebrations got underway late but eventually the Bowman Hall in Blacktown started to fill up with members of Australia’s South Sudanese community. A number of my friends when asking how long I had been waiting for events to start joke with me to stop working on kawaja (foreigner) time.
For anyone wanting to follow current events in South Sudan I would recommend reading this Al Jazeera article from Australian journalist and author Antony Lowenstein who currently based in Juba the capital of South Sudan. While the current state of politics in South Sudan is very bleak I have found inspiration and hope in the younger generation of South Sudanese living in Australia. These portraits of a Dinka Agaar group before they sung and danced last night at the anniversary event are examples of a demographic of young Australian South Sudanese whom I have been documenting for the past 5 years. Shortly, the work, Stories of the South, will be published online and will also be available to buy as a zine. In the mean time I hope you enjoy these.