Destiny Deacon: Collecting Australia


As a poet, Ellen Van Neerven loves the challenge of responding to artworks, meeting them with her own craft. This poem inspired by Destiny Deacon’s Portrait – Eva Johnson, writer is from a series titled ‘Collecting Australia’, and includes poems created for the works of Dale Harding and Judy Watson.

This is the second in a three blog series, combining Van Neerven’s poetry with works within the QAGOMA Collection.

In celebration of NAIDOC Week, we invited award-winning author and Mununjali woman Ellen Van Neerven to develop a series of written responses which draw inspiration from works featured in our Australian Collection.

Collecting Australia

I deliberately chose artworks from Queensland artists to respond to, because this is where I’m from. I wrote ‘Portrait of Destiny’ because Destiny Deacon is always highlighting our people through portraiture and I wanted to flip this around and highlight her and how strong she is, contributing to this very Indigenous way of honouring each other and those who have come before us.

Deacon’s Portrait – Eva Johnson, writer is about the poet, actor, director and playwright who was born in Daly River, Northern Territory of Australia. Eva Johnson began writing in 1979; her first play was titled When I Die You’ll All Stop Laughing. Her writing spoke about Aboriginal Australian women’s rights, the stolen generation, land rights, slavery, sexism and homophobia.

This series reflects on what it means to ‘collect’ Australia, and how the tension between the Eu-Grip and Dhagan (Aboriginal land) manifests. I hope my words on this art in turn inspire future art and/ or creations/ imaginings. 

RELATED: Collecting Australia

Destiny Deacon, Australia b.1957 / Portrait – Eva Johnson, writer 1994 / Bubble jet print from polaroid photograph on paper / 70.8 x 57cm (comp.) / Purchased 1995 /  Collection: Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art / © Destiny Deacon/Copyright Agency 2019

Portrait of Destiny

I don’t live as an artist.

Destiny Deacon, 2018.


multi-dimensional          magick K’ua K’ua          Erub/Mer          woman

funny                sharp                strong               communal

history              politics             radio                 performance

photography                 video                installation


Thanks, Sis, for dropping the ‘c’             for us urban blaks

You gave us way to       break free         of the whitefellas expectations

define our identity                      on our own terms


Thanks for taking the                 white people’s invention

putting your blak eye                             behind the lens  publishing         protecting

the humanity                 of us women                 us men             us children


You know          I also    feel       when I’m sitting on the couch

I am always feeling         too much

storytelling                    sometimes        is the only way out


you gave those dolls                 a home!


Brunswick Sista wherever you go                       living room                    Island

darkroom          gallery              classroom         kitchen              lecture hall

you fly              tid       you fly

Ellen van Neerven (Meanjin, July 2019)

Destiny Deacon

The politics of representation and their implications for Indigenous people are at the core of Destiny Deacon’s artistic practice, which is largely photography, but also film and installation. Her works combine wit and anger to subvert ethnographic misconceptions about Aboriginal people. Deacon’s low-tech, snap- shot type images humorously redress stereotypical Anglo-European portrayals of Indigenous peoples and seek to confront viewers with unacknowledged prejudices and anxieties. In doing so, she takes control of how Aboriginal peoples are represented.

The image Portrait – Eva Johnson, writer 1994 is appropriated from J M Crossland’s painting Namultera, a young cricketer of the Native’s Training Institution, Poonindie 1854, in the collection of the National Library of Australia. Deacon had seen the work on loan at the National Gallery of Australia and later improvised with her friends Eva Johnson to pose, with the assistance of Virginia Fraser, artist, writer, editor and curator, to stage the image. In Deacon’s version however, the subject’s cricket bat has been replaced by an axe.

The subject, Eva Johnson (b.1946) is an Aboriginal Australian poet, actor, director and playwright, and was named Aboriginal Artist of the Year in 1985, and in 1993 received the inaugural Red Ochre Award from the Australia Council for the Arts for lifetime achievement.

J M Crossland, England/Australia 1800-1858 / Namultera, a young cricketer of the Native’s Training Institution, Poonindie 1854 / Oil on canvas / 99 x 78.8cm / Collection: National Library of Australia

Know Brisbane through the QAGOMA Collection / Delve into our Queensland Stories / Read more about Australian Art / Subscribe to QAGOMA YouTube to go behind-the-scenes

This project is part of ‘Drawing from the Collection’, a series of programs which invite you to take inspiration and draw ideas from the QAGOMA Collection through ongoing experiences from special events, to daily drop-in drawing.

Acknowledgment of Country
The Queensland Art Gallery | Gallery of Modern Art (QAGOMA) acknowledges the traditional custodians of the land upon which the Gallery stands in Brisbane. We pay respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander elders past and present and, in the spirit of reconciliation, acknowledge the immense creative contribution Indigenous people make to the art and culture of this country. It is customary in many Indigenous communities not to mention the name or reproduce photographs of the deceased. All such mentions and photographs are with permission, however, care and discretion should be exercised.

Feature image: Destiny Deacon Portrait – Eva Johnson, writer 1994
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