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Vogue Australia’s First-Ever Indigenous Cover Model Returns to the Runway to Create Change


It’s not because she imagines a second coming specifically—George left the industry disillusioned with the lack of representation—but because she has also discovered a role as mentor, passing down her knowledge and hard-learned lessons from a time when there was little to no cultural understanding of being an Indigenous woman in a predominately white industry. “I had no one else that was First Nations, so I didn’t feel culturally safe. I couldn’t express myself the way I thought I should be able to, because they wouldn’t understand where I’m coming from,” she remembers.

Since last week, she’s been on the ground to mentor young Indigenous models as FNFD founders Teagan Cowlishaw and Grace Lillian Lee, both creatives in their own right, help her to see the enduring impact of her visibility on that cover nearly 30 years ago. “I didn’t realize that that impact that I had,” she says of the younger generation. “They’ve told me they’ve grown up with my story because their parents had the cover. They’ve got photos of their own family holding it. It actually brought tears to my eyes.”

As the conversation around increased representation continues, spurred on by the first ever Indigenous shows at Australian fashion week last year, there is an acknowledgment that the industry needs to change, to make space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and not the other way around. Part of this is understanding of the diversity within the over 250 First Nations that make up our continent. “There’s a lot of different mobs and groups and tribes. We’re not all the same. So, when you come from somewhere very remote, your cultural protocols are different and that needs to be respected. I have cultural protocols too about what I wear and what I can’t wear, and what how it reflects my family back home.” she explains. “If we be able to give [young Indigenous people] a space where we understand cultural protocols, then we’ll actually have more models come forward.”

Photo: Marley Morgan, Barefoot Wandering Photography

This week, she’s been helping younger models like Cindy Rostron navigate fashion week in an extension of the support system that she explains is an instinctive part of culture for George. “This is what we learn from day one,” she says pointing to a pre-fashion week event they attended together. “It was my job to look after her. If she got up out of a chair, I got up just to see if she was okay, making sure it wasn’t overwhelming. She knows that that’s my responsibility, because she’s not home.”

The mentor-mentee relationship is not a one-way street however. “I’ve learned from the young ones as well, that it’s okay to be Blak, beautiful, and proud.” Not only that, but how to take the perfect selfie. “[Cindy] was taking a selfie with us but didn’t like the lighting,” she laughs. “We had to change it.” One of the best things they’ve given her? Perhaps a new moniker. “They call me Auntie Vogue.”

This article originally appeared on Vogue Australia.



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