A legend of Indigenous Media, photographer Barbara McGrady has been behind a camera for more than half a century. But a crippling health issue has now forced the proud Gomeroi Murri yinarr to retire from her passion. She speaks to Jodan Perry to reflect on the highs and lows of her journey, and what she hopes to see in the future.


It was always going to be the last time.

With a worsening lung condition and the coronavirus pandemic continuing to cast a shadow over the world, Gomeroi photographer Barbara McGrady had all but put the camera down after more than fifty years of documenting the lives of her people.

There was one shoot to go.

The National Rugby League’s Indigenous Round holds a special place in her heart. This year, even more so. The artwork of her niece, Laura Pitt, featured on both the match ball and the Gold Coast Titans uniform for their match against the Roosters at the Sydney Cricket Ground.

She had to be there.

Her serious health issue has made everyday movement a struggle. On match day, she was unable to comfortably get to the opposite end of the venue to sit in the designated media section, especially with her weighty camera equipment.

Ground staff made an exception so she could set up in the grandstand close by. While a change from freely roaming the sideline as usual, it would suffice for her final job.

“I feel a bit sad because photography is the kind of job that you can do if you're reasonably healthy. You can do it forever. You know? I've read about this Japanese woman photographer who is in her 90s [Kimiko Nishimoto] and still shooting, still out there. It's that kind of job,” she said.

“But I probably shouldn't have even done that. I thought I'd give it a shot and see how it went … I can’t even walk up stairs. It's just hard getting around the house. Everything takes energy, talking, breathing … But I managed to get some good shots.”

McGrady assures that she is fine to continue to speak on this day, but in general is not feeling too well. She has her daughter, who lives in the country, staying with her to help, while her son and his partner are also providing constant support.

“I’ve been pretty broken, but today, I was able to get up and show up. I’m on the computer getting stuff done … I have people around me and lots of friends who bring me coffees and cakes. It’s okay.” she said.

Mungindi to the Metropolis

Growing up in the New South Wales border town of Mungindi, McGrady used to read magazines brought home by her father. She was fascinated by the images of African American sports stars, celebrities and political leaders that graced their pages, which caused her to question why it wasn’t the same in Australia.

She was given her first camera by her mother as a teenager. The initial job was a humble one, as the ‘family photographer’. From there, the curiosity for the craft bloomed.

The journey took her from Mungindi to Brisbane, aged 18, to pursue nursing. She moved to Sydney in 1972, where she remains to this day.

Throughout the years McGrady has not been able to fully focus on photography. As well as stints as a nurse she spent time in the public service, studied sociology at university and also raised her two children. Being an expensive industry, she had to put herself into debt in order to start her own photography business. Thankfully it quickly gained momentum.

“People realised what I was trying to do and say with my images. It just went from there. Because it's more than a job, it's a passion ... yeah. It just got bigger and better as I went along,” she said.

“I always knew that I would go back to being a photographer. It was always a first love,”


“It’s more than a job. It's educating people. It's putting my culture out there. Telling people through my images who we are"

‘Memory and sadness’

McGrady has shot some of the biggest names in the world through her unique perspective. She has captured a range of genres, from protests to political and social events, and her great passion, sport. It’s easy to notice that her imagery is informed by lived experience.

She is immensely proud of covering the sideline for National Rugby League matches. Some of her most rewarding jobs included AFL’s ‘Dreamtime at the G’, the NRL’s Indigenous All Stars matches and notably,

the annual New South Wales Koori Knockout. She is still hoping to see the Toomelah Tigers claim their second title or the Mungindi Grasshoppers take out the tournament for the first time.

Despite the thrill of capturing the face-paced action of the sporting arena, the Adam Goodes racism saga was a watershed moment in her career. From when Goodes’ was first hurled a racial slur by a young Collingwood supporter in May 2013, to when he walked away from the game in September 2015, McGrady was there to capture it all.

“I really have a great memory and sadness too about my three-year duty with the racism. That was ... yeah. I can't even find the words,” she said.

“It was really tough because I'm not like most people. I wear my heart on my sleeve. With my mob, whatever affects them affects me. That was hard. But It was really uplifting in a way because of the way he conducted himself.”

The pain in McGrady’s voice is evident as she reflects on the time, which she describes as “bittersweet”.

“It really, really was. I cried a lot.”

“I saw it in a historical sense of racism. After one of the games I got a great shot, in the middle of the SCG of Adam Goodes, Buddy Franklin, and Lewis Jetta. That's been one of my iconic shots. They were holding the trophy because it was the Indigenous round.”

Being the only Aboriginal photographer throughout those years, McGrady has often questioned why she was not consulted by the creators of the two films that documented the saga, The Australian Dream and The Final Quarter.

“I thought that maybe someone would speak to me about it because I actually was there. You know? I'm not just some talking head,” she said.

“I went to the premiere of Stan's film. I really loved that film. I thought they did a great job. I was thinking they had all these iconic sports people ... they're all great, unreal. But I was like, "Well, why didn't they talk to me? I experienced this.”

“I actually saw Stan in the street because near where I live. I said ‘what's the go brother?’ He said ‘I came in late to this production. It was already blah, blah, blah. You know? You got to love him.”


The next wave

With Indigenous representation in the media in general still at a low level, and with even smaller numbers of our people professional photographers, McGrady admits she is “worried” there won’t be someone to take her place in the space.

“I am, I am. Look, to get into the NRL media on field is a really hard thing to do. Not too many would even attempt that. I made it in a male-dominated space like sports photography,” she said.

Barbara covering the NRL Indigenous Round (Greg Rigby Sports Photos).

Barbara covering the NRL Indigenous Round (Greg Rigby Sports Photos).

Barbara covering the NRL Indigenous Round (Greg Rigby Sports Photos).

“I had to write emails to explain why it was so important to have a black photographer there to shoot from a black perspective … they saw my vision and they threw me media passes every year.”

McGrady says it is crucial to back yourself in order to be successful in the competitive but rewarding industry.

“If you really, really want to do it ... if you want to put out all these great stories out there, go and do it. Go for it. Eventually, if you've got the talent, you've got the know-how ... you'll do it.”

Indigenous All Stars halfback Johnathan Thurston lines up a shot at goal during the 2015 match against NRL All Stars on the Gold Coast.

Indigenous All Stars halfback Johnathan Thurston lines up a shot at goal during the 2015 match against NRL All Stars on the Gold Coast.

Indigenous All Stars halfback Johnathan Thurston lines up a shot at goal during the 2015 match against NRL All Stars on the Gold Coast.

Griffith Three Ways players, including David and Andrew Fifita, cheering on their team at the annual Koori Knockout in Dubbo 2015. The image was used for an article by Sydney masthead The Daily Telegraph

Griffith Three Ways players, including David and Andrew Fifita, cheering on their team at the annual Koori Knockout in Dubbo 2015. The image was used for an article by Sydney masthead The Daily Telegraph.

Griffith Three Ways players, including David and Andrew Fifita, cheering on their team at the annual Koori Knockout in Dubbo 2015. The image was used for an article by Sydney masthead The Daily Telegraph.

Bangarra dancers taken at the opening of artist Tony Alberts' YININMADYEMI Thou didst let fall' launch of his Bullets monument in Hyde Park, 2014.

Bangarra dancers taken at the opening of artist Tony Alberts' YININMADYEMI Thou didst let fall' launch of his Bullets monument in Hyde Park, 2014.

Bangarra dancers taken at the opening of artist Tony Alberts' YININMADYEMI Thou didst let fall' launch of his Bullets monument in Hyde Park, 2014.

Indigenous All Stars captain Greg Inglis stands tall during the teams’ performance of the war cry ahead of the match against the NRL All Stars in Newcastle, February 2017.

Indigenous All Stars captain Greg Inglis stands tall during the teams’ performance of the war cry ahead of the match against the NRL All Stars in Newcastle, February 2017.

Indigenous All Stars captain Greg Inglis stands tall during the teams’ performance of the war cry ahead of the match against the NRL All Stars in Newcastle, February 2017.

Lynda June Coe & Cameron Manning Brown speaking at a protest outside of Channel 7 headquarters in Martin Place Sydney in 2018.

Lynda June Coe & Cameron Manning Brown speaking at a protest outside of Channel 7 headquarters in Martin Place Sydney in 2018.

Lynda June Coe & Cameron Manning Brown speaking at a protest outside of Channel 7 headquarters in Martin Place Sydney in 2018.

Indigenous All Stars halfback Johnathan Thurston lines up a shot at goal during the 2015 match against NRL All Stars on the Gold Coast.

Indigenous All Stars halfback Johnathan Thurston lines up a shot at goal during the 2015 match against NRL All Stars on the Gold Coast.

Indigenous All Stars halfback Johnathan Thurston lines up a shot at goal during the 2015 match against NRL All Stars on the Gold Coast.

Griffith Three Ways players, including David and Andrew Fifita, cheering on their team at the annual Koori Knockout in Dubbo 2015. The image was used for an article by Sydney masthead The Daily Telegraph

Griffith Three Ways players, including David and Andrew Fifita, cheering on their team at the annual Koori Knockout in Dubbo 2015. The image was used for an article by Sydney masthead The Daily Telegraph.

Griffith Three Ways players, including David and Andrew Fifita, cheering on their team at the annual Koori Knockout in Dubbo 2015. The image was used for an article by Sydney masthead The Daily Telegraph.

Bangarra dancers taken at the opening of artist Tony Alberts' YININMADYEMI Thou didst let fall' launch of his Bullets monument in Hyde Park, 2014.

Bangarra dancers taken at the opening of artist Tony Alberts' YININMADYEMI Thou didst let fall' launch of his Bullets monument in Hyde Park, 2014.

Bangarra dancers taken at the opening of artist Tony Alberts' YININMADYEMI Thou didst let fall' launch of his Bullets monument in Hyde Park, 2014.

Indigenous All Stars captain Greg Inglis stands tall during the teams’ performance of the war cry ahead of the match against the NRL All Stars in Newcastle, February 2017.

Indigenous All Stars captain Greg Inglis stands tall during the teams’ performance of the war cry ahead of the match against the NRL All Stars in Newcastle, February 2017.

Indigenous All Stars captain Greg Inglis stands tall during the teams’ performance of the war cry ahead of the match against the NRL All Stars in Newcastle, February 2017.

Lynda June Coe & Cameron Manning Brown speaking at a protest outside of Channel 7 headquarters in Martin Place Sydney in 2018.

Lynda June Coe & Cameron Manning Brown speaking at a protest outside of Channel 7 headquarters in Martin Place Sydney in 2018.

Lynda June Coe & Cameron Manning Brown speaking at a protest outside of Channel 7 headquarters in Martin Place Sydney in 2018.

In Black And White

Being behind the Black lens since she was a teenager, McGrady has documented both the positive and negative experiences of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. With the current Black Lives Matter movement bringing attention to issues we have forever faced, she is hoping that the continued exposure means that change is coming.

“I think our culture is front and centre now. We still have a long way to go but if we're out there, if people are talking about us, having conversations about us ... that can only be a good thing,” she said.

“In society, not just in sports. It's like notice us, we're here. Look at us. This is who we are. It's the best kind of thing. It's incredible.

“But It's not all roses. I could see the good things that are happening also acknowledging all that wrong too. We've been helped with the Black Lives Matter stuff, but there’s still incarceration, kids still being stolen. There's all that too.

While McGrady is physically unable to keep documenting the changing world, she is proud of her contribution to our history.

“I wish I could be that 90-year-old Japanese woman still working, but I can’t. Getting out there doing my thing. Look, it's been a great ride. I've met some of the most delightful, unreal, famous people on the planet,” she said.


“I hope that my legacy will be that I have shown us as a people with thousands of years of ancestral relationship to this land. We've been through so much with 230 years of colonization and dispossession. Our languages have been stolen, we’ve been stolen but we're still here. We're still thriving. We're more than survivors. We're doctors, we're lawyers. We're great sports men and women. We can be anything. People should know who we are and what we are.”



Written and Produced By: Jodan Perry
Produced By: Daniel Gallahar
Edited By: Jack Latimore
Graphics By: Bridget Acreman