An Aboriginal girl is being groomed as a future supermodel
- but first she wants to finish Year 12. Julie-Anne
Harris is potentially going to be Australia's first
Aboriginal supermodel. At just 16, this fawn-like
teenager might also be the way out of poverty for
her struggling Tweed Heads family. And
then there are the possibilities her struggle-town
story offers as an inspiration to other indigenous
kids. That's a lot of potential and a hell of a lot
of pressure. There's more than kilometres between
a New York photo shoot and the modest three-bedroom
housing commission home in northern NSW that Samantha
shares with her three brothers, two cousins and parents.
in a magazine model search when she was just 13, this
is the girl who is routinely being described as the
ubiquitous next big thing.
French photographer Patrick Demarchelier literally
plucked her out of nowhere last year and flew her
to New York for a half-day shoot for US fashion bible
Glamour magazine. Its premise was the world's most
iconic beauties. And that's the catch. For an industry
that is always trying to re-invent beauty, Samantha
Harris has a touch of the exotic. Her indigenous bloodline
is her X-factor. And her family's journey makes her
story all the more compelling.
mother Myrna and her grandmother, too, were part of
the Stolen Generations, removed from their families
as young children and placed in children's homes in
NSW. Myrna lived in a tin shed with no electricity
for some of her childhood and by 17 was a single mother.
"I had a step-dad who couldn't stand me and a
mother who didn't notice, so I did what lots of Aboriginal
girls did back then, I just took off." The weight
of her mother's past must hang heavily on Samantha's
coat-hanger slim shoulders. And it explains a lot
about the expectations being placed on her. "Yes,
I do want to be the first Aboriginal model to make
it big," Samantha says. "I spent my childhood
wondering why you had to have blonde hair and blue
eyes to do well in modelling competitions so I'm proud
that a girl with my looks might make it." Hearing
her mother's history makes her feel lucky, she says.
Frankly, it also makes Samantha a better story and
her prospects even more promising.
course, none of this would amount to much if she weren't
absolutely beautiful. It must be hard, though, being
one of her brothers. Samantha's face dominates the
family living room with whole
walls plastered with newspaper clippings and magazine
photos of their indisputably gorgeous looking sister.
Her agent Kathy Ward, from Chic Management, has had
the job of nurturing Samantha since she was discovered.
It is a carefully plotted course and one, you suspect,
takes some handling. After the Glamour assignment,
which Ward describes as unique, "She was booked
and flown half way around the world for a half-day
shoot. That has never happened to any of our girls
before. It is unheard of," Chic's New York affiliate
agency has been keen tobook Samantha for more jobs.
But Ward says the answer is no. "She's not ready,
she's not mature enough yet and she just wouldn't
cope being out there on her own, so it's not negotiable
finished school. But there's no doubt, the opportunities
for Samantha will be endless, she's on the radar,
she's out there."
Samantha has already done 12 shows at the recent Australian
Fashion Week in Sydney and has also modelled for David
Jones' winter and spring fashion launches. She has
been chosen by the department store as one of its
two youth ambassadors.
by the time this story is published, Samantha will
be in Fiji on another assignment. But last week she
was shyly subjecting herself to this interview, and
you could sense it was a stretch. It's not that she
doesn't like doing media; it's just that she is not
a precocious super-brat. She is shy, naive and still
likes to sleep with the light on. No wonder her mother
worries every time she drops her at Coolangatta airport
for a modelling job down south. Handing your only
daughter over to the fashion industry must seem like
some risk. But it is a calculated one. Myrna insists
it is all Samantha has wanted to do since she was
eight years old. Eight? "Absolutely," says
"I started doing beauty contests when I was five
and by the time I turned eight I'd made my mind up."
mother says she knew her girl was destined for modelling
before she was born. Sounds scary, but Myrna doesn't
come off as your average pushy modelling mother. Sure,
she entered her daughter in beauty contests when she
was only four - and has the photo albums to prove
it - but, paradoxically, she also seems genuinely
concerned that her child should not grow up too fast.
"I have issues with my kids leaving home. I don't
want them to go, I have this feeling of abandonment
that I guess might stem from my own past. So you know,
it is difficult with Samantha. I want her to be successful,
but sending her overseas on an assignment is always
really difficult for me."
says people assume too much because of her daughter's
exposure."They think we're rolling in money but
nothing has changed for us yet. I have to remind myself
that it takes time, but it is hard when you've already
spent years running your daughter around trying to
get her that big break." Samantha's father, Andrew
Harris, is unable to work because of ill-health.
has received a lot of media attention," explains
Ward carefully. "But that doesn't mean she's
making a lot of money yet. Look, we look after all
our girls but if it was any other 16-year-old we probably
wouldn't have invested the same amount of time and
money that we have so far with Samantha. Her potential
is so great, it will be worth it in the long run."
The nurturing process
eats up a lot of what Samantha earns. For instance,
Ward flew up to northern NSW to sit in on this interview
not so much to act as a minder but because Samantha
needs a lot of hand-holding. It is surprising -and
comforting - to hear that the agency takes its job
as this girl's protector very seriously indeed. One
of their conditions is that Samantha finishes year
12 (she's in year 11 now) before they start really
pushing her face overseas. Ward has seen too many
modelling casualties - girls who drop out of school
at 15 but find themselves burnt out only a few years
lost a 14-year-old not so long ago because we insisted
she stay at school," says Ward. "She went
to another agency." Samantha is seen as especially
vulnerable partly because of where she comes from
but also because she is a very reserved, young 16-year-old.
Some girls her age can confidently jump on a plane
and fly overseas, but Samantha is not one of them.
She is chaperoned everywhere. She needs reminding
to make sure her mobile has credit and that she has
lunch money. The fashion industry might be at her
feet but she is a far from worldly
teenager. She doesn't date, is studious and says there's
no way she'd do a Sports Illustrated-type photo spread.
Tellingly, she feels much more comfortable doing modelling
jobs than photo-shoots like the one for this story.
"When I have the beautiful clothes on, the make-up,
my hair done then I'm like someone else. I'm not the
little girl from Banora Point."
Harries, one of the Australian fashion industry's
most influential stylists, first spotted Samantha
two years ago. His first impression was of rabbit
pinned in the spotlight. "She was a young schoolgirl,
shy, reserved and totally bewildered by the industry
but who was being thrust forward. She wobbled her
way down the catwalk on impossibly high heels. Two
years on, she glides down the runway." But, Harries
says, no one in the industry wants her exploited.
back to the expectations. She has been nominated for
a Deadly - the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait
Islander Music, Entertainment and Community Awards
- to be announced later this month at the Opera House.
She's up against Cathy Freeman and Deborah Mailman.
asked to speak to teenagers at schools, particularly
those with a lot of indigenous students. As one 13-year-old
blogger posted recently, the three people she would
most like to meet, in no particular order, are Johnny
Depp, Keira Knightley and Samantha Harris. What does
make of this? "I don't know - it's weird, but
I guess I do want to be a role model for Aboriginal
speaking publicly is an adult thing, and Samantha
is still growing up. She says that doing interviews
like this one are the hardest part of her job and
who could blame her. When I ask about body image and
dieting, she just shakes her head. "I eat healthy
but I don't try and lose weight," she replies.
"What else can I say?"
I get older I want to be able to say I am a successful
model, hopefully Australia's first indigenous supermodel;
but I also want to be able to hold my head up and
say I finished year 12." Her mother agrees. "I
say to my kids, if you want to be top shelf, then
you've got to look on the top shelf. And that means
walking through every door that opens for you. I want
Samantha to have everything I didn't - and that's