• (R-L) Tysan Towney - Actor, Shai Bolton - AFL Player, Kaitlen Dodd - Model (NITV)
They made their mark in 2016 and this year, a number of actors, sports stars and activists across Aboriginal Australia and the Torres Strait are set to build on their success.
By
Sophie Verass

13 Jan 2017 - 2:28 PM  UPDATED 13 Jan 2017 - 2:33 PM

KUREN – Musician

The 18-year-old producer KUREN (Curtis Kennedy) burst onto the music scene last year, taking out the Triple J NIMAs competition where he flew to Darwin and performed at the national event. In 2016, he was also Triple J’s feature artist, performed at a number of high profile music festivals, played on radio station’s nationally and was the beat-maker behind SBS’ Walkley Award-Winning My Grandmother’s Lingo language project.

Rising music star Kuren lends talents to help preserve Indigenous language
DJ, Producer and the winner of Triple J Unearthed’s 2016 NIMA contest, Curtis Kennedy aka Kuren is just 18-years-old but is already gaining a steady following on the Aussie music scene. Now he’s contributing his talents to a very worthy cause via SBS’s unique new interactive, ‘My Grandmother’s Lingo’.

The Wiradjuri man from Hilston, NSW made a lot of noise (quite literally) when he dropped his track ‘Home’, a collaboration with NYC-based signer, Ben Alessi. This year KUREN is set to release his much anticipated debut EP.

 

The Rule sisters – TV Personalities

 

Angela, Shenika, Helen, Kelly, Sharna, Kiara, Aleisha, Jessica and Hannah - meet the 9 Noongar sisters who are set to take over your televisions (and your Instagrams) in 2017. Along with their mum Daniella, they’re the stars of NITV’s real-life series ‘Family Rules’, where Australia takes a look into the lives of this modern Indigenous family. ‘Borrowing’ one another’s clothes, finding the perfect formal dress and getting off Snapchat to learn about country are just some of the hilarious and heart-warming reasons that you’ll love watching this big family from Perth.

Family Rules
Nine sisters navigate the modern world while trying to stay true to their mother’s values – in their household, family rules!

Only two weeks into the new year and the Rule sisters have already been featured on a billboard in Sydney’s Kings’ Cross, have an 8-page spread in Vogue and are featured numerous newspapers and mags across the country. 

 

Kaitlen Dodd – Model

While the young woman from Dubbo may have gained mass attention last year under not-so glamorous circumstances – getting soaked by a huge wave during a photo shoot in a viral video –, the winner of the Aboriginal Model Search will no doubt continue making a splash in the industry.

Stylin’ up: Aboriginal model search kicks off
Aspiring Aboriginal models from all over the country are practicing their stuff to strut down the catwalk at this weekend’s National Final in Sydney.

The emerging model walked at last years’ Mercedes Benz Fashion Week and is now signed to three agencies for modeling and acting work. In March she'll be on the runway of the Indigenous Global Runway; a part of Virgin Australia Melbourne Fashion Festival. The demand for the Kamilaroi woman has been so high, she says that she’s barely had time to focus on her studies. Her dream of becoming a Victoria’s Secret Runway star might just be a reality…

 

Madeline Wells – Activist

At just 21-years-old, the young Wemba Wemba and trawlwoolway woman from Tasmania has an impressive list of achievements. She was awarded the 2013 Tasmanian Aboriginal student of the year, was selected to represent Australia in China at the 2014 APEC Youth Skills Summer Camp, has joined the Indigenous Youth Climate Coalition (SEED), and is currently working as a community producer with Arts for Social Change organisation, Big hART. However last year, Wells was impressively the only delegate from Australia at the United Nations Youth Forum in Geneva.

Young trawlwoolway woman selected to attend United Nations' Forum in Geneva
Madeline Wells, a young Indigenous activist, will be the only delegate from Australia at the upcoming UN youth forum in November this year.

She is focused on giving young Indigenous people a voice and implementing change to ensure a bright future for Aboriginal Australia. Wells has been described as an ‘outstanding leader’, particularly in the space of human rights, policy making and rule of law.

In 2017 she will be attending more public talks, including US climate change activist Xiuhtezcatl Martinez and widening her international networks. Wells will also continue organising Q&A sessions and film screenings for the Tasmanian Aboriginal community and she has  just begun her journey into learning her mother’s language, Wemba Wemba.  

 

Tysan Towney – Actor

The Wiradjuri man from Peak Hill went from short film in Australia to Hollywood in the blink of an eye. He's an exciting new talent in acting and since training at the Australian Academy of Dramatic Art (AADA), Towney appeared in film The Rose Tattoo to then landing his breakthrough role as Djukara in Cleverman, which critics called a ‘stand out’ and ‘brilliant’ performance.

This year he has a scored a role in a hit new US HBO series The Leftovers and will continue to take on tinsel town, pursuing more American TV and movies. 

 

Mikaela Jade – Entrepreneur

Jade is scientist by trade who has entered the tech-world in a big way. The Cabrogal woman behind Indigital, a business that designs and delivers technologies to Indigenous communities and teaches non-Indigenous people about Indigenous culture through tech, recently started her venture in the absence of investors and instead, with her own self-funding and the assistance from a government grant.

Digital Rangers app an 'eye' into Aboriginal Australia, developer to meet PM
An idea inspired by the late discovery of her Aboriginal ancestry, lands Mikaela Jade a spot at the PM's Reception for Indigenous Innovators and Entrepreneurs.

Jade launched an app last year using photogrammetry and image recognition technology to capture natural objects on country (specifically Kakadu) to access details and learn stories about the site. She has travelled extensively in the past year, sharing her innovation with potential investors and stakeholders and 2017 will likely see her officially launch the unique smartphone app. 

 

Charlee Fraser – Model

The young Awabakal woman from Newcastle took last years' New York Fashion Week by storm, walking the runways of Alexander Wang to Prada, Chanel, Dior, Givenchy to name a few. She is the face of a number of high-end campaigns including Bassike and modelled magazine spreads in Marie Claire Australia and Document Journal. Fraser has been labeled an industry ‘breakthrough’ being repped globally by IMG models so quickly into her career and is the first Indigenous Australian model in the international fashion industry.

Self-described as a ‘model in the making’, Fraser is likely to actually have it made this year with more international fashion shows, campaigns and press. Fraser's talents and success could make her the third Aboriginal women on the cover of Vogue Australia with Elaine George in 1993 and Samantha Harris in 2010, watch her in 2017.

 

Josh Muir – Artist

Following the success of his Youth Award at the Telstra NATSIAAs two years ago, in 2016 contemporary artist, Josh Muir was offered an entire façade of the National Gallery of Victoria as his canvas and has become a growing name in Australia’s art scene.

The young Yorta Yorta/Gunditjmara from country Victoria spent his youth battling with drug abuse says that he uses art as a way to heal his pain and express himself. His own personal story weaved together with his interest in European and its impact on Australia’s First Nations, makes unique contemporary Aboriginal art, rapidly gaining the affections of the art community.

National Gallery of Victoria the canvas for Josh Muir’s story of Aboriginal Victoria
From an overdose at 15, to having his work featured on the façade of the NGV. Josh Muir knows first hand the healing power of art, and has high hopes that his 'Still Here' artwork can achieve some of that.

In 2017 Muir will be designing the Richmond FC Guernsey for this years’ AFL Indigenous Round, collaborating with sculptor Adam Ridgeway at this years’ Next Wave Arts Festival as well as releasing his first music single, ‘Bunjil’s child’.

 

Ishmael Marika – Filmmaker

Since Yonglu man Ishmael Marika began playing in the digital space he’s become no stranger to success. In 2014, Marika’s short film, Galka had its world premiere at Garma Festival, official opening at the iconic Deckchair cinema in Darwin and was later screened on NITV. In the same year, he picked up the award for the NT young achiever and the Primavera: Young Australian Artist award at the Museum of Contemporary Art.

In 2016, the 25-year-old  took home two major art awards; Traditional Song of the Year at the NIMAs and the Youth Award for the Testra NATSIAAs.

Young NT artist takes home two major art awards in one weekend
Multi-talented artist Ishmael Marika, from Yirrkala in the Northern Territory, has taken home both a NIMA and NATSIAA award this past weekend.

He has big things planned for 2017 including works at the South Australian Museum for Yidaki at the Adelaide Festival, a digital art animation project at in Sydney train stations, an exhibition with artist Curtis Taylor at the Freemantle Arts Centre and collaborating on video project with filmmakers in Melbourne.  

 

Grace Lillian Lee – Curator and Designer

Last years' highlights for the 27-year-old Torres Strait Islander woman included, exhibiting at the National Gallery of Victoria, presenting a fashion performance at the Adelaide Spirit Festival collaborating with curator Dion Hastings and band Electric Fields, presented at the Virgin Melbourne Fashion Festival travelling the Cairns Indigenous Arts Fair, presenting at the Women of the Worlds conferences in Katherine, NT. 

Lee is an Honors graduate from RMIT University and works as a curator, designer and mentor within a fashion dialogue in Cairns. She creates bespoke cultural designs, practicing cultural craftsmanship into contemporary forms.

In 2017 she will be celebrating the 5th anniversary of the fashion show at the Cairns Indigenous Arts Fair, as well as continuing her work in communities, particularly working on Mornington Island to help local artists develop their work into textiles. 

 

Shaleise Law – AFL star

The young woman from Cherbourg has been making a name for herself in Aussie Rules being a consistent goal kicker and a master forward. She has a strong a chance at gaining a starting position with the Brisbane Lions for the 2017 AFL Women’s League. After joining the Queensland Under-16s team Law quickly rose up the ranks despite only learning to play in a year or so earlier, in Year 8.

Cathy Freeman’s niece, Shaleise Law, rises up the AFL ranks
When Cathy Freeman made her iconic run in the 2000 Olympic Games, Shaleise Law was just two years old. Instead of following her aunt’s path on the track this Cherbourg girl has been making a name for herself in AFL and has gained a starting position with the Brisbane Lions for the AFL Women’s League.

With a strong sporting pedigree from her aunt Cathy Freeman and her rugby league playing grand-father Eric Law, Shaleise is definitely one to watch on the field in this year.

D’Arcy Short – Cricketer

Six fours, three sixes, fifty on debut and the second fastest by a Hurricanes player - The Hobart debutant D’Arcy Short, a left-arm batter and bowler from Katherine, dominated the most recent Big Bash, beating his way to equal fifth-fastest half-century seen in the series.

Hurricanes catch Sixers Short in BBL
BBL debutant D'Arcy Short has blasted 61 off just 29 balls to lead the Hobart Hurricanes to a 60-run win over the Sydney Sixers at the SCG.

Cricketing legend, Ricky Ponting commented on the player’s talents saying, “We are seeing something special here, this is as good strikes I have seen in the tournament so far.”

There’s rumours of a Cricket Australia contract this year with many fans crossing their fingers

Nathan Maynard – Playwright

A direct descendant of Mannalaganna, chief of the troowolway clan of North East Tasmania, playwright Nathan Maynard drew on traditional hunting practices for his debut play ‘The Season’. After working as a performer himself, Maynard wrote the play about the practice of hunting mutton-birds on Tasmania’s Great Dog and Babel Islands to “pay respect to them old fellas” who continued the practice despite pressure to assimilate.

All Indigenous stars perform in The Season at Sydney Festival 2017
Emerging Palawa playwright Nathan Maynard has delivered a work of substance in his first major production The Season. Director Issac Drandich has high praise for Nathan's work comparing his writing sensibilities to the legendary playwright Jack Davis.

The much anticipated play has debuted at the Sydney Festival 2017, before showing at the Ten Days on the Island Festival in Tasmania. 

Yarramun Conole – Activist

19-year-old Conole is an advocate for Indigenous rights and youth empowerment. The Barada, Barna and Kabalbara woman from Central Queensland is a Linguistics and Indigenous Australian studies student at the University of Melbourne, with a passion to challenge oppression wherever she sees it. She is known for talking current affairs and community activism through her blog, On Being a Blackfella and has created a safe space on the Internet for those involved in Indigenous affairs – particularly young people.

In 2016, Conole helped organize the #BlackLivesMatter rally in Melbourne and spoke on NITV’s Awaken program regarding Don Dale and young Aboriginal peoples experiences.

Why online spaces are so important for young Black people finding community
COMMENT | Blogging has the power to connect communities around the world. Through understanding our common struggles we can stand in solidarity with each other. That said I have witnessed how prevalent colourism and anti-Blackness is in non-Black PoC communities. If we're going to stand in solidarity for justice and liberation, it can't be conditional. We need to be intersectional and inclusive in our activism, online and in life, writes 18-year-old blogger Yarramun Conole. #YouthWeek

This year she has been invited to Mapuche Aboriginal Struggles for Indigenous Land (MASIL) Exchange along with other Aboriginal activists from across the globe including, Aotearoa, Bolivia and Canada. Part of the exchange will also involve the filming of a documentary, with a particular focus on culture, land rights and Indigenous people's relationships to their respective lands, assimilation, transnational corporations and their relationships with indigenous peoples in each country, racism and resistance. Conole is currently fundraising for her trip.

Shai Bolton – AFL Star

Bolton’s talent in the under-18s carnival for South Fremantle got recruiters impressed with his ‘explosive’ speed, goal sense and tricks and Bolton was claimed for the Richmond Football Club last last year. Bolton is the son of former Fremantle midfielder Darren Bolton who funnily enough had his debut in 1999 against Richmond.

The young gun from Mandurah spent 2016 in the top 25 NAB AFL Draft Hub, quoted as having ‘a bounce and does things around the goal that others just can’t’. With his 18th birthday just celebrated, Bolton will be entering a career blazoned in AFL colours. 

Read these too
Can poetry stop a highway? Wielding words in the battle over Roe 8
COMMENT | Poetry in protest is not simply a mantra to be chanted at picket lines, but an invocation of the power of language to speak to a higher law, to a judgement that has no official courts, but nevertheless holds each of us accountable.
Sydney Festival to tell untold stories in language
With Wesley Enoch, a Noonuccal Nuugi playwright from Minjeribah (Stradbroke Island), at the helm as Director, Sydney Festival 2017 is once again putting a spotlight on Indigenous stories and performance.
Tracee Ellis Ross dedicates Golden Globes win to women of colour
Tracee Ellis Ross won her first Golden Globe, the best actress in comedy award for her role as a doctor and mother in Black-ish and took the opportunity to make a statement on women of colour.
A year in review: striking images of Indigenous Australia in 2016
From Rhoda Roberts lighting up Sydney harbor to Magnolia Maymuru representing the NT in Miss World Australia, and the 50th anniversary of the Wave Hill Walk-Off - 2016 has been a big year for Indigenous Australia.