Tucked away in the Port Noarlanga bushland in South Australia, Antonia Weetra and her partner Shane Warren paid homage to their unborn child in a unique and striking tribute.
Antonia, a proud Narrunga woman, wanted to ensure her child was aware of her culture and heritage passed on from ancestors, so she painted storylines passed on from her across her body where her young one grows.
“My aunty painted me because we are from the same land - the Yorke Peninsula,” the 20-year-old explained.
“The river is from our country and represents the knowledge and guidance running through from the parents to the baby. The colour blue represents the flow of the river and the handprints on the legs are the imprints from aunties and uncles."
“I want my children to be raised in an Aboriginal family, with the same culture, traditions and beliefs. We need to keep our culture alive.”
Painting culture proudly
The first-time mother says being Aboriginal has always been key to her idenity and hopes the same for her unborn daughter.
“I’ve always wanted to embrace being Aboriginal. I’ve always wanted my children to be raised in an Aboriginal family. After everything that has happened in the past, we need to keep our culture alive.”
Shane’s brown paints represent strength carried within him as a father and provider. He is holding a hunting stick, an item used to knock out lizards – an image of protection that Shane says was crucial to create for his baby.
“I thought it was good to represent strength and a strong father figure because my biological dad left when I was a newborn, the same thing happened for Antonia. My stepdad ended up raising me from birth so ever since I’ve always wanted to be a strong role model for my child like he became for me,” Shane explained.
The Arabana/Undergidy man also created a fire pit to symbolise warmth, not only to keep them warm (on a frosty afternoon), but also to welcome the baby into a warm place.
“It was a very traditional process whereby we gathered bits of bark, dried leaves and broken branches laying around. Shane then dug a barrier so the grass wouldn’t burn and the fire would last peacefully,” Antonia said.
The wooden food bowl placed in front of them suggests hunting and gathering for baby Nancy.
“Our first gift to our daughter Nancy will be a fruit bowl painted with traditional Aboriginal artwork from one of Shane’s family members. We want it to be able to tell a story from her mum, dad, aunties, uncles and Elders.”
Antonia and Shane met through mutual friends during their teen years. Now in their 20s their relationship continues to blossom with big plans for the future. The two have always wanted to be parents, but such a road wasn't easy for the young couple.
“We’d been planning to get pregnant and we finally did, but I had a miscarriage,” Antonia explained.
“We were so young we didn’t know how to handle it, we barely even talked about it really. We didn’t give up hope; instead we waited another year and were blessed quite quickly.”
As the pair began preparing to welcome baby Nancy into their world, a fire in their belly began to burn and a desire to teach her culture was their new focus.
“I’m excited and nervous about becoming a new mum. I’m looking forward to working with my nana and mother to introduce traditional Aboriginal culture and show Nancy women’s business,” Antonia explained.
“My partner’s mother is very traditional and will take her on country to show her where she was born and grew up and where her mother was born and raised.”
The couple's photoshoot took more than six hours, with photographer, Colleen Strangeways, Shane’s aunty behind the lens. As a strong Arabana woman, Colleen provided cultural appropriateness when using traditional artworks, artefacts and ceremonies to share and showcase stories from ancestors, as well as her photography talents.
"In my mother’s time birthing was carried out in one’s own country with all the rituals and traditions such as squatting over a prepare hole in the ground covered with soft grass and leaves as well as soft red sand," she explained.
"The female midwives such as grandmothers and other designated women attended to give physical and emotional support such as holding and massage; this relieved the discomfort of labor."
"Being born on our land allowed us to be regarded as traditional owners of that land, so the photo shoot holds a lot of cultural symbolism."
Colleen said the significance of women surrounding Antonia throughout the day was essential to prepare her for motherhood.
"Birth in our traditional society was always ‘Women Business’ This shoot was taken specifically near the large tree you see in the background as it was normal practice for the mother to be to give birth near or in a hollow tree," she said.
"Also being born on our land allowed us to be regarded as traditional owners of that land, so the photo shoot holds a lot of cultural symbolism and with only Shane being the only male Antonia was surrounded and cared for by all her aunty's on the day."
So far the couple says their photos are “too deadly” and that "everyone wants copies".
"This will become a tradition of our own that we hope our children, their children and their children's children continue."
The pair agrees that pictures can say more than 1000 words, especially when it comes to being able to capture their culture, traditions and ceremonies for and with their daughter.
“Sharing wisdom, knowledge and the strong roots of Arabana women, from both sides of the family, means she will have a lot of knowledge about her history, background, connections, and languages.”