Strong and proud: calendar celebrates Aboriginal beauty

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The Independent Online

The beauty of Aboriginal women is celebrated in a calendar launched this week – but it is expected to elicit more interest overseas than in Australia.

The swimwear calendar, aimed at promoting indigenous models, is being produced by Nova Peris, the former Olympic athlete. Ms Peris said she hoped it would raise the self-esteem of Aboriginal women. She said: "We want to say [to indigenous girls]: 'Get out there and be proud.'"

A similar calendar flopped five years ago, but the image of indigenous women has since been boosted by the rise of a schoolgirl model, Samantha Harris, tipped by some to become the first Aboriginal supermodel.

The 17-year-old was spotted by an agency three years ago after reaching the finals of a competition run by teenage magazine, Girlfriend. Since then she has modelled for David Jones, Australia's equivalent of Selfridges, for leading local designers including Alex Perry, and for Lancôme, the cosmetics company.

Last year she was flown to New York to take part in a fashion shoot for Glamour, conducted by the internationally renowned photographer, Patrick Demarchelier. Until then, she had never been abroad, and had rarely left her home town, Bonora Point, on the border of New South Wales and Queensland.

Ms Peris, who won a gold medal in hockey at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, said Aboriginal girls still faced discrimination. Her daughter, Jessica, a junior athlete, is one of 14 models in the calendar, which was shot by Wayne Quilliam, one of Australia's few indigenous professional photographers. He told The Australian newspaper: "I believe the beauty of Aboriginal women is the essence of Australia – strong, proud and unique."

The calendar's co-ordinator, Sharnee Hegarty, said the models' beauty was appreciated more abroad than at home. "It's sad," she said. "There's been interest from Europe and America. Australia is really missing out. These girls are no less than the models the industry already uses, and their difference shines."

Shannon McGuire, a 23-year-old who features on the calendar cover, told The Sydney Morning Herald that most people "don't see the beauty in the [Aboriginal] culture because everything in the media is so negative".

However, Samantha Harris, who has an Aboriginal mother and a German father, is playing a small part in changing perceptions. "I'm really proud of my Aboriginal heritage. I want to do well for my culture and for my family," she said.

Ms Harris, who has modelled at both Australian Fashion Week and New Zealand Fashion Week, said that indigenous girls rarely saw positive images of themselves in the media. She revealed her favourite model was Naomi Campbell, but she has yet to display Ms Campbell's temperamental behaviour.