Queensland's Migrant Farm Workers Spotlighted in Art Show

Two migrant farm workers picking and packing raspberries on a Queensland farm

A photographic exhibition will give a glimpse into the life of migrant farm workers in regional Queensland, thanks to a Griffith University artist and researcher.

Dr Kaya Barry is a cultural geographer whose research explores how mobility and migration experiences are influenced by landscapes, places, and weather.

From 2022 to 2024, she handed out disposable cameras to more than 30 seasonal workers at farms across Queensland, asking recipients to capture moments of their daily lives.

The resulting photographs displayed everything from evocative landscapes to the beautifully mundane moments, workers toiling in the fields, on shuttle buses to and from the farms, living in shared dormitories and enjoying their well-deserved days off.

"It was really exciting receiving the cameras back, sending them off to be developed and seeing the images that were captured," Dr Barry said.

"Most people I gave the cameras to had never used film photography before, so the fact they couldn't preview or edit, delete, or retake their photos was part of the fun.

"They came out far brighter than I'd expected – such vivid, rich colours that really brought out the burst of colour and greenery in the crops and reds of the soils."

The exhibition is part of Kaya's three-year fellowship funded by the Australian Research Council, investigating the value and contribution of seasonal migrants to Queensland's horticultural communities.

Dr Kaya Barry
Dr Kaya Barry

Considered only as 'temporary' workers due to their visa status, many migrants who take up seasonal farm work spend months, or even years living in regional farming towns across Queensland.

Titled Seasonal, the exhibition will give a fly-on-the-wall view of these workers – from the backpackers on 'working holidays' to those from the Pacific Islands and Timor-Leste on labour mobility visas, who are a vital part of these regional communities.

Presented in the Childers Arts Space, itself the home of the Palace Backpacker Memorial in the small rural town of Childers, the exhibition also celebrates the spirit, strength and resilience of the local community.

It will also be toured around regional and rural Queensland over the next year, including the farming towns of Mundubbera and Gayndah.

"My hope is that as a collection, the images will show some snippets of familiar roads, farms, people, and so on, but also that the overall 'story' of the farm worker experience is actually quite picturesque," Dr Barry said.

"These photographs are different from the usual social media and marketing promos we see about farm work to attract international tourists – they show more of the grit, the candid moments, the tough and maybe just boring periods of people living their lives.

"I hope they will spark some different kinds of conversations about how these workers not only contribute as much needed labour, but are also just here, living alongside us, doing what we all do, day in, day out."


Photographs by Migrant Farm Workers in Regional Queensland

Childers Arts Space, 72 Churchill St, Childers

Free Launch Event + Exhibition Talk: 3pm-5pm, Saturday 20 April 2024

Exhibition runs: 20 April - 14 July 2024

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