Before she even held a television script in her hands, Maddison Brown slipped seamlessly into the shoes of Bindi Irwin. Or so thought her parents, who gave Brown the nickname after watching her while away her days outdoors. “I was never in the house when I was a kid,” says Brown, now 24 and a star of Netflix’s “Dynasty” series. “I grew up on a five-acre [two-hectare] property, which is very bushy and rugged, and we had snakes around the house and wallabies, we had a dam, frogs, wild animals.”
In 2018, Brown moved to Atlanta to film the TV soap reboot, now in its fourth season. But her childhood in Dural, a semi-rural suburb of Sydney, set the scene, so to speak, for her deeply rooted environmental consciousness — the reason for her recent return to Sydney.
In September, she was set to embark on an expedition to study the health of the Great Barrier Reef, but the trip was postponed due to Covid-19. “There’s a really magical, special thing about the ocean,” Brown says. It’s a quiet repository for her thoughts, a break from urban living. “To think of something as ancient as the Reef not being there in a matter of decades is very confronting,” she says. “It might not be there for our children, that’s how dire it is.”
In the meantime, Brown is accelerating her impact abroad. She has signed on as an ambassador with Parley for the Oceans, a group whose celebrity endorsements and collaborations with Adidas have raised funds to tackle plastic waste and facilitate worldwide beach clean-ups. Brown’s knowledge on the subject of marine pollution is near encyclopaedic: the ocean is our big- gest ecosystem; marine life accounts for 70 per cent of our oxygen supply. “If you’re buying fish, where is that fish coming from?” Brown presses. “Is this company ethical? Do they care about cleaning up the ocean? Do they take their nets with them or do their nets wash ashore on the beach with a thousand dead fish inside?”
Brown was just 16 when she moved to New York to pursue modelling, walking for Calvin Klein and 3.1 Phillip Lim. Europe and, later, Hollywood called, setting her on a peripatetic path that had her travelling between the modelling and acting worlds until a role in Australia, playing Nicole Kidman’s daughter in “Strangerland” (2015), illuminated her passion. “Warm and nurturing. Those are the two words that come to mind when I think about my experience with Nicole,” she reflects.
Still, coming of age in front of the camera can complicate the process of reconciling one’s reflection. The pressures of rejection and conforming to sample size while living overseas prompted an eating disorder. “At that age, you don’t have the emotional regulation to understand what you’re going through and the requirements for the job,” Brown says, noting the homogenous model line-ups at the time (“blonde, white, 50 kilos”). The expe- rience hardened Brown ahead of Hollywood and — while the industry has diversified, and she has recovered — it renewed her appreciation for her body. “Modelling equipped me very well for rejection, for putting yourself out there and knowing there’s always another opportunity around the corner,” she says.
As she dives into her new role as an advocate for the ocean, there is a palpable symbiosis between Brown’s professional career and her philanthropic one. “It’s easy to feel powerless,” she says of the magnitude of the marine crisis. But, as someone who has endured countless failed auditions, Brown knows it only takes one. “If I can get one person to understand the state of the ocean and how important it is to our survival on this planet — and also what a beautiful ecosystem it is, separate from our survival — then I’m happy with that.” (To take the Parley A.I.R Pledge and commit to reducing plastic waste, go to parley.tv, or follow the group on Instagram).
A NOTE ON THE PHOTOGRAPHY: At the time T Australia commissioned this series, much of the country was in lockdown. As such, our portrait photographer, Kelly Geddes, undertook T Australia’s very first remote shoot, via Facetime and Zoom. Geddes revelled in the challenge, using screenshots and photos of her computer screen to capture the scenes, the latter technique producing some of her favourite pictures. “They had a natural and raw quality to them,” she says. The files were sent to the darkroom service Blanco Negro, where they were hand-printed from a digital enlarger, toned in the darkroom as silver gelatin prints and then scanned for publication as black-and-white images. Each subject wore a T-shirt by the Australian label Nobody Denim; the same style appears in flat lay photographs throughout the series. In these, the T-shirt serves as a “blank canvas”, altered by the subjects in a way that represents the legacy they hope to leave.