Alf at a Hundred … and The Sunday Mail …

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and portraying now one hundred year old Alfie “Popeye” Neal OAM for a few decades … a gentleman with quiet determination and a mission to improve the plight of Australia’s indigenous residents.

Long an advocate and fighter for indigenous rights, Alf was born in the early 1920’s on his beloved country at Ngarrabullgan (Mount Mulligan) west of Cairns. Moved to the indigenous community of Yarrabah, he was baptised at the age of 2 and grew up in dormitories. His earliest memories were of learning white man law alongside the traditions of aboriginal lore.

In 2019 the former bush lawyer and cane cutter was awarded the ‘Medal of the Order of Australia’ (OAM) for ‘Service to the Aboriginal community, particularly the 1967 Referendum Campaign’. Alf was a leader in the decades long fight for the referendum which eventually resulted in Indigenous peoples historic recognition in Australia’s Constitution.

In light of the ongoing “Voices” campaign and upcoming referendum, I pitched an image of Alf and his three week old great great grandson …  “100 Years & 3 Weeks” … to the Sunday Mail … and big thanks to journalist Michael ‘Mad Dog’ Madigan for is great words and SM Pic Ed Jamie Hanson (in his last week on the paper after 30 odd years) for getting this story across the line and over three pages of last Sundays edition. 

The top pic is a very recent previously unpublished portrait of Alf that I made on his Yarrabah verandah …  image two (bottom left) is a page grab  of “100 Years & 3 Weeks” in the Sunday Mail … and image three (bottom right) is todays two page SM spread of Michael’s words on Alf’s colourful life and achievements with some more of my ‘Alf’ pics from across the years.

Thanks Alf, son Percy, journo ‘Mad Dog’ and pic ed Jamie. (A very ‘special Thanks’ for Jamie for being ‘one of the best’ pic editors …  happy (chosen) redundancy and enjoy life outside the media, Jamie … Thanks for everything !).

Images © Brian Cassey, publication The Sunday Mail

Voices - Alf Neal OAM at 100 - "100 Years & 3 Weeks" - images by Brian Cassey - Yarrabah

Veronica … Mornington Island … Where Home Brew Kills …

Thrilled, but also saddened to once again travel to remote Mornington Island (Kunhanhaa) in the tropical Gulf of Carpentaria in northern Australia … the third visit in the past year.

Mornington is a delightful destination populated by delightful people … but the community are grappling with many social ills mainly caused by the tyranny of distance and basically, being ‘forgotten’.

New young Kunhanhaa Mayor Kyle Yanner is determined to raise awareness about the many issues that have beset his community … and has managed to get the attention of the Queensland Government near two thousand kilometres distant in Brisbane.

I again made many images during last weeks visit to the island … but this pic of five year old Veronica Barnes is the one I’m most fond of. I was concentrating on portraying a 16 year old who was a ‘home brew’ imbiber when I glanced Veronica and her tiny puppy. A couple of frames later and I had what I think is a ‘special’ image (sorta ‘Bill Henson style’ 😉 ). (NB … her father gave permission for the pic to be seen.)

Veronica’s community is experiencing the ravages of a wide spread ‘home brew’ alcohol epidemic … and this was the main thrust of our story. She is growing up in a community where many of her extended family members and friends are suffering the consequences of alcohol induced diabetes and untimely death. The community … ‘dry’ for twenty  years … has seen a rapid rise of dangerous home brewed alcohols … and children as young as ten years old have been imbibing and adversely effected. Diabetes cases have skyrocketed and the cemetery is littered with the graves of those who have succumbed to alcohol related issues in their teens, twenties and thirties. 

Mayor Yanner and the council are reaching out for urgent assistance to stem the scourge and are proposing the introduction of regulated mainstream mid strength alcohol products to the island, controlled at a Tavern. Queensland Minister for the Environment Meaghan Scanlon MP made the trek to Mornington last week to listen first hand to Yanner’s plans.

Veronica’s image was just one of the many made whilst covering the story (by journalist Domanii Cameron) in The Courier and Sunday Mail newspapers … below is a also page grab of the spread as published in Saturdays ‘Weekend’ edition.

My recent previous visits to Mornington documented severe overcrowding in the community’s housing (The Australian, December 2020) … and numerous issues in ‘The Queenslanders Left Behind’ (The Sunday Mail, May 2021)


Images ©Brian Cassey – publication © Courier Mail


'Veronica - Mornington Island - Where Home Brew Kills' - image by Brian Cassey for Courier Mail story on alcohol abuse and home brew on Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria.


'Veronica - Mornington Island - Where Home Brew Kills' - image by Brian Cassey for Courier Mail story on alcohol abuse and home brew on Mornington Island in the Gulf of Carpentaria.


Images of Dead People … ‘Lenin’ and ‘Charlie Chaplin’ …

On two occasions over the last couple of weeks have had the pleasure to document ‘dead people’ – two infamous characters from the last century – one a political figure who changed the World … the other a silent film actor who forever changed the film industry.

Of course … I didn’t dig ’em up. Both were highly convincing re-creations by talented Cairns artists.

‘Lenin’ (Vladimir Ilyich Ulyanov) survived assassination attempts before dying of a brain haemorrhage in January 1924 (a little before my time 😉).

However, a portrayal of the Marxist and father of the Soviet Union and the Soviet Communist Party by vastly experienced Cairns actor Peter Merrill brought him back from the grave. Peter plays the ’Lenin’ lead in ‘Petrograd Express’ … a new play by Ken Cotterill which opens in Cairns at the Rondo Theatre this month. The title ‘Petrograd Express’ refers to Lenin’s 1917 train journey from exile in Switzerland, across hostile Germany, back to Russia to seize power from the government and declare a ‘dictatorship of the proletariat’. The train journey by the architect of the Bolshevik Revolution set in motion events that forever changed Russia and modern history.

I made this portrait (top) of Lenin/Peter for the local Cairns Post newspaper.

A week later I found myself portraying ‘Charlie Chaplin’ … brought back to life by amazin’ Kuranda performer (and friend) Danny Simony.

Englishman Chaplin … a comic actor, filmmaker and composer during the silent film era … became a World wide icon through his screen persona. A perfectionist … Chaplin wrote, directed, produced, edited, starred in, and composed the music for most of his many films.

My portrait of Charlie/Danny (bottom) was made for the now regular Sunday Mail newspaper feature ‘Larrikins of Queensland’. Danny … also a perfectionist and an exceptional talent at comedy, mime, pick pocketing and more … told the story of how he travelled from his birth place of Paris to Australia via India and Nepal decades ago and then forged a career in Cairns as the cities favourite entertainer and ‘Queensland Larrikin’.

Images © Brian Cassey

Portraits of Dead People - Lenin (Peter Merrill) and 'Charlie Chaplin' (Danny Simony' by Brian Cassey.

Portraits of Dead People - Lenin (Peter Merrill) and 'Charlie Chaplin' (Danny Simony' by Brian Cassey.

‘Kate’ … The Good News Continues …

The best news is … Kate … who has been waiting over eight years for breast reconstruction following a double mastectomy …  is now well on the way to having her ‘assets’ back.

Following the publication of my pic (below) on page 1 of the Sunday Mail with a story about insane Queensland hospital waiting lists, Kate Yeoman and dozens of other Queensland women had their long awaited surgeries ‘expedited’ at the direction of State Premier Annastacia Pałaszczuk and Health Minister Dr Steven Miles. Covid-19 caused a little hiccup and further delays … but Kate has now had several of her set of reconstructive breast surgeries.

Recently I had the pleasure of making some more images of a fit and fabulous Kate which will feature with an update to her story in this weekends The Sunday Mail (weekend of 7th-8th November).

(Stop Press -1 ! Below is a grab of the double page Sunday Mail spread featuring Kate’s story and my images published the weekend of the 7th-8th November.)

The other piece of ‘Kate’ news is that my image “Kate – Waiting For Her New Breasts” has been awarded a further accolade to add to a growing list. The pic has just been awarded an ‘Honorable Mention’ in the ‘Editorial – Contemporary Issues’ category of the 2020 ‘International Photography Awards’ (IPA). Thanks IPA ! (Image below)

Previously the work has also been recognised in … the 2020 ‘Moscow International Foto Awards’ (MIFA – Honorable Mention – Portrait)the 2020 ‘Clarion Awards’ (Finalist – Best News Photograph) … and the 2020 ‘Percival Photographic Portrait Prize’ (Finalist).

(Stop Press -2 ! Just learnt the news the the image “Kate – Waiting For Her New Breasts” has managed another ‘gong’. It has been selected as an ‘Honorable Mention’ in the 2020 International “Black & White Spider Awards” in the ‘Portrait’ category.)

Image © Brian Cassey

International Photography Awards (IPA) - Honorable Mention - Editorial Contemporary Issues - 'Kate - Waiting For Her New Breasts' - image by Brian Cassey

Sunday Mail - Kate Yeoman - Breast Reconstruction Story - images by Brian Cassey

Kate … “I Deserve to Feel Like a Whole Woman” …

We’d like to think otherwise but In all honesty it’s pretty rare that our work in the media actually makes a substantial ‘difference’.

Every now and then something comes along to restore your faith in the role of the media … and reminds us why we work in this ‘game’.

A couple of weeks ago I was asked to take images of ‘Kate’ … studio shots showing her character and the scars that have been part of her life since a double mastectomy following a breast cancer diagnosis years ago. The Sunday Mail have been going hard on a campaign to reduce hospital waiting times for surgery in Queensland hospitals … and Kate Yeoman is a prime example.

Kate is one of dozens who have been on hospital waiting lists for breast reconstruction surgery for many years. She was diagnosed with rare Tubular Carcinoma cancer eight years ago and endured a double mastectomy. She was advised that breast reconstruction would be implemented at the same time. It wasn’t and she is still waiting …

I made this image (below) in a friends little (private) studio … it featured across page 1 of the Sunday Mail with the head ‘Forgotten Women’ and Kate’s tale by journalists Jackie Sinnerton and Natasha Bita. Kate’s story spread to two more inside pages where it expanded to include narrative from three other women in a similar situation. The story and images have since spread around Australia.

The reaction by readers and the Queensland Government was immediate. The Queensland Health Minister Steven Miles said he was “personally moved” by the Sunday Mail image and story on Kate’s plight and the other women’s stories. “My heart breaks reading the very personal stories of women affected by breast cancer,” Mr Miles said. “I’ve asked for Cairns Hospital to meet with these patients to ensure they receive their surgery as soon as clinically possible.”

Miles has now arranged for twenty four Cairns women with long standing issues to receive their required surgery in Brisbane … whilst Kate will have surgery in Cairns on 2nd of April to reconstruct the breasts she has been without for a too long eight years.

It gets better … in news just to hand (Saturday 29th Feb) the Queensland Government has announced that it will open operating theatres on weekends to ease patient wait lists and will pump in $20 million to do so and to implement other strategies.

Kate … who deserves a bloody medal for her magnificent courage and fortitude … is over the moon.

Kate today said “I am sitting in Kmart crying tears of joy. This is life changing for so many. Thank you to everyone who has recognised the importance of this, Sunday Mail, both sides of government and the public who have reached out after my very personal exposure.  My mum was right, I shouldn’t have to go such extraordinary lengths to get this issue some attention, but I am so proud of what has been achieved. The impact of long waits can be devastating and this much needed funding injection will change and perhaps even save lives.  Let’s hope this also creates a change in policy and that reconstruction is recognised as an important part of the treatment plan for breast cancer patients in Queensland.”

It gives you goosebumps … and I’m so pleased to be a tiny part of a triumph for Kate and many other Cairns women.

Images © Brian Cassey and Sunday Mail (slightly differing images of Kate) (below)

Kate yeoman awaits breast reconstruction surgery following breast cancer diagnoses - image by Brian Cassey

Kate Yeoman awaits breast reconstruction surgery following breast cancer diagnoses - image by Brian Cassey - page 1 Sunday Mail

Bi ’16, Hi ’17 …

Thanks to Murray Young for pointing this out (I was across the other side of the planet so initially missed it) … great showing in the first publication of 2017 in the Sunday Mail, January 1.

The S Mail used my image of beaten asylum seeker Abdullatif Almoftaji across the entire front page cover of their photographic retrospective special … ‘2016 Pictures of the Year’ … which also included some mind blowing and soon to be, if not already, ‘iconic’ (for want of a better term) images … including Cameron Spencer’s Getty image of Usain BoltBurhan Ozbilici’s startling AP image of Mevlut Mert Altintas after murdering Russian Ambassador to Turkey Andrei Karlov, Jonathan Bachman’s ‘Black Lives Matter’ Baton Rouge protest pic of leshia Evans … and Mahmoud Raslan’s haunting image of 5 year old Syrian child Omran Daqneesh in Aleppo. All images that will go down in history.

Real Chuffed to have my image part of such an amazing collection.

My pic of beaten 20 year old Iraqi asylum seeker Abdullatif was made at the Manus Island Papua New Guinea police watch house during a visit to document the island’s detainees. In December it was recognised as the winner of the Nikon Walkley Portrait Prize for 2016.

Below is a grab of the January 1st three page Sunday Mail special ‘In the Frame – Pictures of the Year’ (Abdullatif image © Brian Cassey)

Pictures of the Year 2016 - Abdulaftif Almoftaji - Manus Island by Brian Cassey

Pictures of the Year 2016 - Abdulaftif Almoftaji - Manus Island by Brian Cassey


Footy …

Twas last Friday lunch time … and the pool and bar area at Gilligan’s Backpackers in Cairns was packed with bikini clad backpackers only outnumbered by numerous Australian Rules footy players on their traditional ‘end of season tour’.

My unenviable task was to make some images to accompany a story on the ‘end of season footy tourists’ for the Sunday Mail. Seemed like every half drunk (or more) backpacker/footy player either wanted to get involved in the pics or pass colourful judgement on the proceedings … but eventually all the usual formulaic pics were in the can.

As I was about to take my leave I grabbed this frame of travelling footy players around the bar – just as one decided to check out the ‘features’ of one of the available ‘talent’. The image was ‘filed’ with the others made at Gilligan’s … but I was later reminded by the SM ‘desk’ that they are a family newspaper …

image © Brian Cassey 2014