There are times when sport is more than just sport – times when the physical contest over a small, seemingly insignificant ball somehow unites a large group of people in a broader human story.
For more than 30 years now the Aboriginal Rugby League Knockout Carnival at Nambucca Heads has been doing just that, and photographer Amanda James has captured some of the most poignant snapshots of raw humanity in her new exhibition if Knockout – The Travelling Exhibition, opening at The Q next Thursday.
James first attended the carnival as a teenager in 1986, and it quickly dawned on her that there was much more to the event than football.
‘‘I was a teenager without a camera, and armed mostly with 1970s and 80s textbook knowledge of Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture. I did, however, play and love the game of rugby league,’’ she recalls.
‘‘On the first day at my new school in Tweed I had met Donna Fay, an enchanting year 9 student of Aboriginal and South Sea Islander parents. I went to the Knockout with Donna and her mob. Twenty-eight years later Donna, her immediate and extended family and many members of the Tweed Heads Aboriginal community are family to me, nannas and aunties to my children and a central part of my inspiration to use my camera to document positive, candid stories of contemporary Australian Aboriginal and Islander life,’’ she said.
The knockout carnival gathers men, women and children from more than 60 different language groups to take part, and the previous year’s winner always hosts the next carnival.
Initially established as recognition of Aboriginal sportsmanship, over the decades the carnival had became an important way to unify people within aboriginal communities.
After 28 years as an audience member, James realised the significance the carnival reached beyond sports and her beautifully realised images reflected the cultural complexity of the carnival. Exhibition curator Arthur Chan said Queanbeyan audiences would enjoy a documentary series that seamlessly blended the world of art and sports.
‘‘I think the best way to describe the exhibition is that we would like to share the spirit of sport. It’s a rare occasion that combines art and sport into the same situation. Somehow this documentary manages to do that,’’ he said.
Knockout – The Travelling Exhibition opens at The Q exhibition space next Thursday at 5.30pm. The exhibition continues until June 30. For more details, visit www.theq.net.au or phone 6285 6290.