The I Do! Wedding Stories from Queensland exhibition at the Queensland Museum is featuring never heard before stories from Djunngaal Elders and Yarrabah community members.

The exhibition features a mission style basket and commissioned wedding dress designed in partnership with Djunngaal Elders, Gunggandji descendantand Yarrabah artist Simone Arnol and Cape York Peninsula, Umpila, Djabuguy, Yirrganydji man, Bernard Singleton.

With strong roots in Yarrabah and over 20 years working in Indigenous law and Native Title, Arnol has been part of the arts and fashion industry for five years.

“I use strong connection to family and Country as a foundation to all my works, always keeping it grassroots while respecting the Elders, our keepers of knowledge,” Arnol told NIT.

She said what started out as an artistic commission of, “a perspective of Indigenous weddings for a traditional wedding ceremony” soon turned into a 12-month long process of storytelling the Yarrabah Elders narrative.

“Soon into consultation with the Elders of Yarrabah we found that there was a more important story to be re-told,” Arnol said.

The story in question would instead shed light into the dark history of prior policies of forced protection and assimilation and how this affected cultural traditions and lore.

Arnol’s wedding dress design. Photo by Rachel Stringfellow.

Granny Hope, a key Djunngaal Elder within the Yarrabah community and primary influence on the project, spoke to this personal impact.

“The girls and boys when they fell in love—they couldn’t come out of the dorm in the yard to be with their boyfriend or husband … they had to stay behind the fence,” Granny Hope said.

“The girls were inside the fence, [while] the boys were outside the fence.”

In many cases mob weren’t afforded the privilege of marrying someone they loved, however this wasn’t the only restriction they faced.

“This impacted harshly on them as it included separate education for Aboriginal children, town curfews, alcohol bans, no social security, lower wages, State guardianship of all Aboriginal children,” Arnol said.

“Laws that segregated Indigenous people into separate living areas, mainly on missions, special reserves outside towns or in remote areas.”

That’s why when first asked to do the commission, Arnol was quick to establish the true purpose.

“Everything we do is a voice for our Elders … It is not going to be a pretty dress.”

“It’s going to be a powerful narrative.

“In this design, it is passing on a story from our Elders, our ancestors.”

On now until February 21, 2021 I Do! Wedding Stories from Queensland ­features Arnol’s work amongst other wedding dresses throughout the span of 180 years.

By Rachel Stringfellow