Destiny Deacon<br/>
Kuku/Erub/Mer born 1957<br/>
Sad 1998<br/>
from the Oz series<br/>
lightjet print from Polaroid<br/>
200.0 x 100.0 cm<br/>
Collection of the artist<br/>
© Destiny Deacon, courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney

In the light of Destiny





On Thursday 23 May 2024, during the Flower Moon – the last full moon of May – renowned Kuku/Erub/Mer contemporary artist Destiny Deacon passed away peacefully, surrounded by family and listening to reggae. Destiny’s poignant, beautiful, thought-provoking photography delved into themes of identity, Community, and the lived experiences of Aboriginal families. A true trailblazer, Destiny’s impact was transformative, particularly through her coining of the term ‘blak’, a powerful reclamation of colonialist language that has fostered new forms of self-definition and cultural expression. Her legacy is one of immense significance and lasting influence.

I was fortunate to know Destiny in her final years. We actually first met when I was a baby, as her then-girlfriend, Lisa Bellear, was looking after me for my mum who was studying at the University of Melbourne. I don’t remember those early days, but our paths would cross again in 2020 when I curated her second retrospective show. We would meet at her house, where she usually offered asparagus sandwiches and gave me a beer, and together we would plan the exhibition.

The following text is a tribute to Destiny – an icon, an inspiration, a genius, and my friend.

Rest in Power, Destiny.

Destiny Deacon<br/>
<em>Oz Games, Sad, Travelling, Scared, Slow</em> 1998; 2003 {printed} <!-- (recto) --><br />

lightjet photographs<br />
100.0 x 80.0 cm (Oz Games) 200.0 x 100.0 cm (Sad, Travelling, Scared, Slow)<br />
ed. 14/15<br />
National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne<br />
Purchased, Victorian Foundation for Living Australian Artists, 2021<br />
2021.179<br />
&copy; Estate of Destiny Deacon/ Licensed by Copyright Agency, Australia

In the quiet, violet, autumn glow of the ICU room, Destiny lay on her bed, surrounded by flowers, cables, beeping machines and fussing doctors. As I sat by her side at St Vincent’s, the hospital’s Koorie liaison officer, a beautiful young Yorta Yorta woman, came in. She said, ‘I hear you’re an artist,’ and asked if we were friends. Destiny replied, ‘Yes I’m an artist, and well, he is sort of more like a little brother, if you know what I mean.’

I have never met a person more universally agreed upon than Destiny. She was loved by everyone, but especially by mob. Destiny changed the way we talk about ourselves, how we see ourselves, and what it means to be BLAK. She was brilliant, she was challenging, and she was also very funny. Destiny was still cracking jokes even as she struggled to breathe: ‘Just don’t move me to a room with some creepy old white-haired men,’ she requested. ‘We won’t, I promise,’ the girl answered, and they didn’t.

Destiny’s eyes fluttered open and closed. She was in pain. I told her to try and get some rest. ‘Every time I shut my eyes I see funerals. Billy Thorpe. The Aztecs. Are you writing this down? Billy Thorpe, “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. But it has to be live at Sunbury. It must be live at Sunbury.’ I wrote a note in my phone. Destiny was brilliant like that, always thinking ahead. It was like she had planned her funeral song for decades but only now felt the need to say it. And she was right, as always. Of course she chose the most perfect funeral song ever. The depth of her thinking had no limits.

Destiny loved music. She often let songs express what she didn’t want to say. I used to think it was to express what she didn’t have words to say, but I came to accept that she had the words, she just didn’t want to speak them. She hated talking about her art. I once asked her, while we were working on the monograph for her NGV show, DESTINY, in 2021, why she made art. ‘I’m just an old-fashioned Aboriginal artist. I take pictures of my Aboriginal life,’ she replied.

Over the years I heard Destiny give various versions of this answer to different people. She loved dodging questions, making you work for answers. But she also loved sharing, especially music. I found that in music there was usually some profound hidden message, perhaps something she didn’t have the words for. Or was it just something she didn’t feel the need to paraphrase? ‘Just listen, why do I have to explain everything?’ I can hear her biting back. ‘Aren’t you supposed to be the curator?’

I’ve listened to Billy Thorpe live at Sunbury every day since Destiny died. ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. Destiny loved the The Wizard of Oz. What was it about it that she loved so much? In the film, a young girl from Kansas named Dorothy gets whisked away by a tornado to the magical land of Oz. Magical yes, but it’s also weird, and a bit creepy. She meets strange characters – the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, the Cowardly Lion – and travels to the Emerald City to seek help returning home. In the end, she learns that she had the power to go home all along, just by clicking her heels together.

‘And if I ever go looking for my heart’s desire again, I won’t look any further than my own backyard. Because if it isn’t there, I never really lost it to begin with.’

It’s one of those strange morals from a film that I never really understood. What a terrible thing to teach young girls: Don’t go looking for your heart’s desire, just stay inside. Destiny got it though. She knew it was a metaphor. She always knew the importance of home, family and friends. Her whole career, she photographed friends and family, as well as the dolls, obviously.

I remember when Sofia Belling, cherished family and long-time model for Destiny, once said, ‘Thank you for making us this beautiful and strange family photo album.’ I’d never thought of Destiny’s work as a family photo album before then, but it was. Or rather it is.

One of the strangest and most special memories I have is of Destiny taking a photo of me for Vogue a few years back. We were about to go into another Covid lockdown, so she called me and said, ‘Come over quick before Dan changes the rules.’ (They did that night by the way, and we ended up locked down for months.)

I jumped in the shower, shaved, washed my hair and drove over to Hope Street. I always loved that Destiny lived on Hope Street. It seemed so perfectly apt.

Destiny was mortified when she saw me. ‘What have you done?’ she gasped. ‘Oh no… no, no, no… Where are your whiskers? You look like a little boy. Where have your whiskers gone?’ She kept touching my face. She had to pivot ideas quickly because I had clearly messed up. I remember her saying, ‘Dolls are easier than people, because they don’t act up. And they don’t talk back.’ I guess they also don’t shave their beards unexpectedly, I thought to myself. Stupid Myles!

But it didn’t matter. For all her antics, Destiny was actually very good at adapting fast. Thinking on her feet. She had the camera just millimetres from my face. The lens bumped me a couple of times. I had no idea what she was doing or what to expect. A few days later, she sent the picture. The email read, ‘Hi Myles, here is my picture of you for Vogue. I hope you like it.’

I opened it. And there it was. She saw me as a lost boy and pinned her picture of me up on a tree, like a poster for a missing cat. I guess it was partly because her show, which was meant to open before the pandemic, kept being delayed. It did feel like it had gone missing. But I think she also saw something in me. I do feel lost sometimes. Especially today.

Destiny was a truly once-in-a-lifetime person. As Hetti Perkins put it, she had that ‘blowtorch intellect’. I love that expression. It captures her so well. I remember her partner, Virginia, once saying she was the most brilliant mind you’ve ever met, sort of like a cross between Bambi and the girl from The Exorcist. That always made me laugh. She wasn’t wrong.

I’ve only met a few people in my life who I would call true geniuses. Destiny was definitely one of them. We went through so much in the last five years. We were working together when Covid happened and her solo show was delayed again and again. Her diagnosis and losing Virginia in February 2021. It’s a blurry roller-coaster. I am so grateful I got a chance to say goodbye, but I still don’t believe that goodbye is possible.

I don’t really have words to express how much Destiny meant, but I don’t feel like I need them. Everyone who knew her surely feels the same way. Destiny meant so much to so many. Since she left the world, I feel like I am wandering through one of her photographs. Everything is a blur of tears and laughter. If you don’t get it, it’s probably better if you just listen to Billy Thorpe’s ‘Somewhere Over the Rainbow’. Just make sure it’s the live version. It must be the live version.

Destiny Deacon<br/>
Kuku/Erub/Mer born 1957<br/>
Swan dive 2009<br/>
lightjet print from C photograph<br/>
75.0 x 100.0 cm<br/>
Collection of the artist<br/>
&copy; Destiny Deacon, courtesy Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery, Sydney