Magnolia Maymuru made headlines earlier this year when she burst onto the modelling scene as the first Aboriginal woman to represent the Northern Territory in Miss World Australia.
Since then she has been announced as the face of Chadstone’s SS16 campaign in Melbourne, and most recently she walked her debut runway show at the Darwin Aboriginal Art Fair, where she wore creations from Aboriginal designers all over Australia in bold colours and prints.
From the outside, Magnolia appears very naturally beautiful and glamorous, however she has captured the hearts of many Australians for more than that – she exudes humility, and aims to inspire Australians of all backgrounds to come together and celebrate who we are as people.
“We’re all equal when it comes to the true meaning of Australia. We’re all human beings, and that’s one thing I’d love to reach out to, not only through fashion but just by meeting people.”
She sees modelling as a platform to be able to do this, and as an opportunity to break out of her shell and explore new experiences. But when she isn’t modelling, Magnolia leads a very different life altogether. Hailing from a remote community on the Gove Peninsula, which is 600km east of Darwin, she spends much of her time adventuring and hunting for food.
“When I tell a lot of people that I go four-wheel driving, they think it’s not ladylike! That’s one thing I love to do is just to go out bush-bashing, on sand, gravel and Bitumin. I like to do a lot of driving, hunting and camping as well.
“We’re hunters and gatherers and will always be. I love to go out and collect oysters, and mud crabs. I’m very outdoorsy, I’m hardly ever indoors.”
But one day she will be barefoot on the beach, looking up at the stars with her family, and the next she will be flying out to Melbourne to get her hair and makeup done for a photo shoot. She recently competed in the finals of the Miss World Australia competition, making it the top ten, which she said was an incredible experience.
At first, she felt uncertain about competing, as she was warned by people she told that the atmosphere might be 'nasty', and she was scared she wouldn’t fit in. But when she arrived, she met a friendly competitor in the foyer, and they got chatting and went out to lunch together.
“It was then that I realized that none of that is true,” Magnolia says. “All of the ladies I met were so polite, it was just friendly and the atmosphere with 30 different women, there was nothing nasty about it. We all spoke about everything from getting our hair done, to shopping, to boys, family. It was a great experience and I loved every part of it.”
She also recalls the moment she left home for the competition, when her grandmother gave her an important piece of advice that she will never forget and continues to apply to her life.
“She looked me in the eyes before I flew down for Miss World and said: ‘Integrity has to be from your head to your toes. Integrity has to be shown on the outside, same as on the inside.’
“And it took me maybe two to three days to understand what she meant by that. What she meant was to always be kind, and to give but not take, from your heart to your fingertips. She’s very wise.”
So far Magnolia’s modeling career has given her some amazing opportunities, with the next great adventure being to go to Greece for Fashion Week. One of her ultimate goals is to be the first Aboriginal supermodel, but one experience she would love to have is to meet one of her heroes, Lupita Nyong’o. She was particularly moved by one woman’s story of being inspired by Lupita’s work.
“I remember watching a clip on Facebook - she spoke about how one lady sent her a letter on how she used to bleach her skin. And once she saw Lupita come up and she became a model and did all her work, she then realized that black is beautiful, and she started to appreciate her body a lot more because of Lupita. And I thought, if she has that effect on people, I can’t wait to meet her and even just look at her and just stand next to her – I would melt into hot chocolate!”
But Magnolia’s story has already had an incredible effect on people all over the world too. One woman reached out to tell her that a community in Italy had seen her modelling and taught students in their schools about Aboriginal culture in Australia as a result. Another lady reached out to Magnolia about a heartwarming exchange she'd had with her daughter.
“I remember getting a message from a mother (who was not Indigenous) and also from her daughter (who was also not Indigenous), and she’d look at her mum and say “Oh my gosh I wish I could be Magnolia, I want to be Magnolia! How do I get black skin?” And when I read that message, I thought “Oh bless her! Bless her so much.” And that message actually made me cry because, just to have somebody, a little girl like that – it just made me very emotional.”
And at the end of the day, this is why her story is so important. Magnolia is using her voice and her modelling to show women of all backgrounds, sizes, shapes and colours that there is no limit to what they can do.
“I hope nothing but success for all women, really. Whether they’re Indigenous, Asian, Indigenous African… whether they’re into sport, or they want to be a motor car racer, or just anything. What I want to do is inspire as many women as I can along my journey.”