• One of the many shirts on display at the State Library of Queensland (Brian Cassey)Source: Brian Cassey
More than 190 Black designs are being showcased at an exhibition at the Queensland State Library, from t-shirts with protest slogans, to sporting jerseys.
Rachael Hocking

24 Mar 2021 - 5:00 PM  UPDATED 24 Mar 2021 - 5:00 PM

‘Where did you get that shirt?’

Whether it’s the annual NAIDOC march, Invasion Day protest or waiting at your local Aboriginal Medical Service, chances are you’ve heard that question.

Girramay, Kuku Nyungul and South Sea Islander woman Louise Hunter said it was this question, and the yarns that come with it, that inspired a new exhibition at the Queensland State Library called Deadly Threads.

“The concept came from years of visiting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across Queensland and seeing different people in community with different shirts on for various reasons,” she said.

“I have loaned some items for the exhibition, one of them is the Cowboys 2016 Indigenous Round jersey, and I’ve got a few of the shirts from the community that my mother comes from: shirts that really identify who I am and the items I have a connection to.”

Ms Hunter, who curated the exhibition, said much of Queensland’s Indigenous history can be traced through the community's clothing, including key moments such as the Mabo decision of 1992.

One cabinet is dedicated to shirts printed and worn for the landmark High Court decision, showcasing TSI designs and Eddie Koiki Mabo. There are also memorial shirts designed specifically for tombstone openings in the Torres Strait Islands.

Among the displays are well-known slogan tees from Vernon Ah Kee, Richard Bell and Libby Harward, as well more recent Black Lives Matter shirts and designs from social enterprise Clothing the Gap, whose designs protest the licensing arrangement of the Aboriginal Flag.   

“Instead of lining the street and protesting for a particular reason, it’s a more quiet protest,” she said.

“It was a logical move to include protest shirts in the exhibition.”

The state’s sporting history gets a good wrap - with Indigenous Round jerseys, and even rugby legend Johnathan Thurston’s boots.One wall at the exhibition is dedicated to 11 years of Deadly Choices shirts, a community initiative which promotes healthy lifestyles.

NRL star Steve Renouf has been working with Deadly Choices since its inception, and said their signature collared shirts have played a key role in encouraging mob to get their 715-health check.

“When we first started we didn’t realise the impact it would have on the community,” he said.

“(The 715 health check) has gone through the roof and that’s good for the health of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people not only here in Queensland where we launche, (because) we now have a national footprint.”

Ms Hunter agreed, saying the shirts are “some of the most popular” among mob due to their unique Indigenous designs and alignment with different footy clubs.

“When you visit communities lots of people wear them because of health promotion concept behind it,” she said.

“They’re also really popular across regional Queensland as well where we have a lot of Aboriginal Medical Services.”

Mr Renouf said seeing other mob wearing Deadly Choices shirts instantly instils pride and brings people together. 

"It's about belonging," he said. 

Deadly Threads: where did you get that shirt? is on at the State Library of Queensland from Sat 27 March – Sun 15 August