Bobbi is a creator and storyteller, single mother of four, Aboriginal woman, trauma survivor, friend, aunty and artist. She’s a keeper of chickens, quails and cats, a pasta-by-the-kilo maker, painter, photographer and fashion designer. Her collaboration with Deadly Denim featured at Paris Fashion Week this year.
Over one third of Australian women describe their birth as traumatic, and that number is disproportionately higher for Indigenous Australian women. There’s also evidence to support that Indigenous women are between 35-80 times more likely to experience domestic violence than non-Indigenous women. 80. Eight zero.
Her own birth experience is part of the reason Bobbi advocates for and documents Birthing on Country. On one level, Birthing on Country means giving birth on the lands of one’s ancestors. In a wider sense, it’s a call for a reform of our maternity health system, to help close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous birth outcomes.
Bobbi is tending to the wound frame by frame, brushstroke by brushstroke. She’s also funny, dry and completely herself. Her hair was cut short and glowing hot pink through my computer screen. Last month it was purple. I asked her why she changed it so frequently. She said: why be boring?
What’s your favourite area of the house?
My bedroom I think. It’s filled with things I love and my kids all love to be in there with me. We watch movies or just chill together talking. My next favourite would be my art studio, obviously.
What do you feed four boys for dinner?
They love pasta. They’re just always hungry. I’ve got a Thermomix and we’ll do fettucine carbonara in that. That’s their favorite. We eat a lot of chicken and vegetables. We don’t really eat a lot of red meat. They love noodles, they love rice.
Do you have any help parenting?
No, not really. I do it all on my own. When I’m doing events and shoots I have a babysitter. And if my Mum’s in town she’ll have the kids for a couple of days here and there. But yeah, basically I’m doing it on my own.
Oof. How do you not go….
Insane? Lately it’s been painting. I love painting. I do it when the kids are sleeping or when they’re playing. We’ve got chickens and cats and quails, so there’s a lot of animals around. The kids will be with the animals and I’ll paint or play with them. Sometimes I take a ‘me day’ and get my hair done or my nails done, or something. Everyone asks me, how do you do it? I don’t know the answer. I still have three kids in my bed, because we co-sleep. They have their own rooms and their own beds, which they must think are just for decoration.
Am I seeing cats in there, too?
The two cats are in. Porsha and Lucy. They take turns between my bed and my oldest son’s bed. Usually Porsha will go to his bed and Lucy, who doesn’t really like anyone, will sleep in my bed, like she’s the queen.
Sounds like a great photo. What was the last shoot you did?
I shot a mother-baby session yesterday. It was the full moon and the mum really wanted the moon in a pink sky over the water. So we did that last night. It was really beautiful.
You have an incredible photo of a baby during a smoking ceremony. Can you tell me about it? What’s happening in this photo?
That’s my first cousin’s baby when he was about three or four months old. We went out to a sacred spot for women only, a dry river bed about 90kms from Port Hedland. My aunty, me and my cousin were there. We burned leaves and wafted the smoke over the baby, which is supposed to ward away bad spirits or bad energy and also helps to strengthen the baby’s lungs.
We sat together under the tree and made head pieces out of red wool, one for each of us and one for baby. My aunty showed us how to hook the wool around our toe and wind it all together. Then we painted ourselves up and collected flowers to finish the head pieces. We sat in the river sand and shared stories about the place. It was just really nice.
I know Birthing on Country is a recurring theme in your work. Is that something you got to experience with your babies?
No. My last birth was horrible. I’m still working through a lot of trauma from that and healing from that. There was a time after it I thought I never wanted to photograph another baby again. It took me about a year to get back into it. I’m still working through my own healing.
I can’t talk about it too much, but it’s a huge reason why I’m so passionate about Birthing on Country, because I wasn’t given those options. I was denied having my traditions and culture included in my births. I wasn’t allowed to have my family in the room. I was denied access to an Aboriginal worker and things like that. That’s why I’m really, really passionate about it and want to keep highlighting it and trying to make change.
What do you think about when you paint?
A lot of my paintings are of Port Hedland. I think about the stories I know about this place. My Mum would tell me about the beautiful, bright coral and seashells all along the beach – everything that was here before the port, the spoilbank and all that. It was all under crystal clear water. I just love her vivid descriptions. I try and paint it how it was before my time, how I imagine it to be.