Worthy winner

THE grandson of Aussie rules legend Polly Farmer has won the top gong at the Melville Art Awards for his stunning photo of Noongar resistance.

Cole Baxter’s moody black-and-white portrait You’re (Not) Wanjoo was originally shown at Fremantle Arts Centre as part of a powerful exhibition on Noongar protests.

Now it’s won the overall prize at the Melville Art Awards, adding to the burgeoning reputation of the young photographer.

Baxter says he’s proud that his photo on Noongar resistance has been so well recieved.

• Cole Baxter with his photo You’re (Not) Wanjoo, which won the top gong at the Melville Art Awards (below).

“Arts in WA, especially in institutions, is historically very white, rigid and specifically with photography; judgemental and holds unfounded biases against it,” he says,

“On top of that, the institutional values held by many non-Aboriginal folks on Noongar Country includes racism towards Noongar artists and not wanting to back or advance Aboriginal art unless it is from the desert or at least not here from Noongar Country.

“So, to see my photographic work being accepted championed and taking up space in this area makes me feel very proud and honoured to be acknowledged in this way.”

Baxter has been taking photos for about eight years and working as a full-time photographer since 2019. 

In 2021/22 he worked on the Ngaluk Waangkiny project, a multi-media collaboration with the Noongar Elders at Perth council, taking photos of them for a book about their lives.

And he is currently undertaking a residency with the Fremantle Arts Centre in the Moores Building in Freo’s West End.

But it was his stunning close-up of artist Ilona McGuire in You’re (Not) Wanjoo that really announced his arrival on the art scene earlier this year.

“The exhibition centred around Protest on Noongar Country,” Baxter says.

“Protest in its obviously visible forms (rallies and protests) as well as protesting the status quo of the mainstream white supremacist ideologies that built the colonies on this continent.

“My piece You’re (Not) Wanjoo has themes of protest, Noongar resistance and uses blur, high-contrast and shadows to accentuate a moody emotional tone that I feel came through well in its final form. I had the idea of a floating head style portrait, ghost-like, black-and-white image.

“I’m a Noongar man – my connection is through my mum Kim Farmer and my grandad Polly Farmer.

“We grew up as a close family and I was always supported to pursue my own goals with no ceiling on the success other than what I was willing to strive for.”

It’s darkly ironic that Baxter took out the top gong at Melville Art Awards, just days after Australia voted “No” in the Voice referendum. How does that sit with the proud Noongar artist?

“The referendum was an opportunity for descendants of colonisers to rectify a long-held attitude of rejection,” he says.

“By merely acknowledging that the brutal dispossession of Aboriginal folks bankrolled white Australia’s every advantage on this continent.”

“I’m fully aware this Australia is made up of many racist people. However, to every ‘non-racist white person’ that voted ‘No’. “What the f*ck are you doing to make sure our outcomes are on par with yours? We’re still dying 10 years before you and seeing as a decent, modest ask was made available to you. What’s the alternative that motivated you to forgo ‘The Voice’?”

You can check out Baxter’s stunning photo and the other diverse artworks in The Melville Art Awards exhibition at Wireless Hill Museum until November 12 (closed Mondays).


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