As a traditional Yolngu Girl from the Mangalili clan, her family would hunt by the seasons for mud crabs, turtles, and fish. “We would hunt whatever the land would provide for us. I wanted to run around in the sand and get dirty, and then go home and put on makeup and play dress-ups.”
The 19-year-old model has brought these games into reality, and is now the Northern Territory representative at the upcoming Miss World national finals.
Growing up near Gove, “A really nice town where everyone gets along,” Magnolia had access to a strong Indigenous community as well as strong family connections. Her great-grandmother’s artwork is exhibited in the Louvre, her grandfather heads the Rirratjingu Aboriginal Corporation, and her father is in prominent Indigenous band East Journey.
“Having people around me who are very hard working and driven to help the community has made me the person I am,” she says. “There were times when I’d feel like there was too much to do, but my family and community have given nothing but support to me.”
Mehali Tsangaris, director of Northern Territory Fashion Week, spotted Magnolia in Darwin in 2014 when she was 17 years old. She turned down his offer to model at the event because she was finishing high school.
She says that decision was easy because of the high importance her community places on bilingual education. “It’s a big thing back home.” Her elders fought to have bilingual education established in schools, where Magnolia learnt traditional language, dance and hunting.
When Tsangaris spotted her two years later at a market in Darwin and made his offer again, Magnolia said she’s only accept if it didn’t interfere with her job working with children as a Sports and Recreation officer. Since it didn’t clash with her roster, she took on the offer which led to her nomination for Miss World earlier this year.
“I’m just in it for the experience, for having a go. The point I’m trying to make is if you don’t have a go, you’ll never know. I want to show children, teenagers and adults that they can work towards the things that they want.”
Magnolia is optimistic about her life after the competition. “I’m happy to go home and live the way I did. I’m also happy to go forward with the contest. I love getting my hair done and all that, and I also love educating and helping people, and the contest gives me a chance to do that.” In the lead-up to Miss World, Magnolia is running a campaign for Variety, which helps disadvantaged kids in the Northern Territory.
“I’d like people to see me first as a model and second as a role model. I want to prove to people that I’m not just a model, that I’m intelligent and confident. And I want people to know that I wasn’t put here just because I’m Indigenous. This wasn’t something that was handed to me, it was something I’ve worked hard for.”
Magnolia’s life is now a blistering schedule of travelling, photoshoots and interviews. As I talk to her she’s in Melbourne shopping for warmer clothes, struggling to adjust to the contrast from balmy Arnhem Land. Regardless of the competition’s outcome, Magnolia is determined to use the media attention to promote her passion for health and education.
“I’ve got it and I’ve got to make it work now.”
To support Magnolia, click here to donate to her Variety campaign.