Meet First Nations researcher uncovering Queensland’s hidden histories

Dr Fiona Foley is recognised as one of the country’s leading First Nations researchers. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Queensland College of Art (QCA) lecturer Dr Fiona Foley is cementing her position as one of the country’s leading First Nations researchers, with the launch of her first book and a raft of fellowships and grants.

As a proud Badtjala woman from K’gari (Fraser Island), Dr Foley’s art practice and research are built around a strong connection to country and culture.

A new perspective

Biting the Clouds is based on her doctoral research at Griffith University and explores how opium was used to control Aboriginal labour in Queensland during the 1800s.

“The book has been a huge achievement and it’s based on my PhD research here at QCA,” she said.

“It’s a history that most Queenslanders aren’t familiar with and it’s very close to my heart.”

Dr Foley said she was inspired to write the book by her mother, who compiled a Badtjala dictionary despite leaving school in Year 6.

“My mother was very conscious about education and very active in community. She was tenacious about getting our land back, and passionate about our culture and language.

“I come from a strong woman who had a fierce intellect and she was instrumental in imparting to her kids that education was the key to unlocking poverty and creating opportunity.

“I see this book as an opportunity to talk about things we may not be comfortable with and explore those hidden histories that haven’t come to the fore.”

A brilliant career

Over the past three decades, Dr Foley has built a reputation as one of Australia’s most provocative artists, working across installation, photography, print-making, sculpture and film.


Witnessing to Silence by Fiona Foley

Her work is held in collections around the world – including the British Museum – and she has completed a host of high-profile public installations, including the controversial 2004 work, Witnessing to Silence, at the Brisbane Magistrates’ Court.

“My career has been very diverse, and I’m still creating new work,” she said.

“I really enjoy what I do, and I feel there is no stopping – I am on a roll.

“I have a big retrospective planned for next year, and I’m able to bring in younger Aboriginal talent to mentor as part of my practice, which I find really rewarding.”

Inspiring the next generation

Dr Fiona Foley. Photo: Dominic Lorrimer

Dr Foley decided to combine her passion for art and history by completing a PhD at the Queensland College of Art. In 2017, she was given a Griffith University Postdoctoral Fellowship and is now a lecturer in fine art at the QCA.

She has been recognised as one of the country’s leading Aboriginal researchers. This year, Dr Foley received a $50,000 grant from the Australia Council to create a new photographic series on country. She was the inaugural recipient of the Monica Clare Research Fellowship from the State Library of Queensland and awarded the prestigious Capstone Editing Grant.

“I’ve won three big awards this year, and I’m excited about playing a leadership role at Griffith,” she said.

“I’m keen to bring other talented Indigenous people to Griffith who want to continue their arts and academic careers.

“There is great scholarship here at QCA, and people are given the opportunity to express themselves through the visual arts or written word.

“It’s such an inspiring place to be, and I love the opportunity to teach and pass on my skills to the next generation of artists.”

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