A teenage schoolgirl from Australia's Gold Coast is tipped to become the fashion world's first Aboriginal supermodel. Samantha Harris, a smoldering beauty of just 16, has already modeled for most top Australian designers and recently went to New York for a fashion shoot with renowned photographer Patrick Demarchelier for US magazine Glamour.
This week she heads for Fiji and next month she will star in New Zealand's fashion week. But the fashion industry is not all champagne and parties for the teenager, who still has two years of high school ahead of her, with ancient history as her favorite subject.
"I usually take some schoolwork with me, or if not I catch up when I get back," Harris said when asked how she juggled her catwalk career with school and study.
And while the fashion industry might have a reputation for decadence and hedonism, she has a chaperone on most of her modeling assignments - her mum. Harris got her first break into modeling after entering a competition in the Australian teenage magazine Girlfriend three years ago. But it was when she modeled for top Australian department store David Jones in their winter parades in February that the world sat up and took serious notice of the slender girl with the latte-complexion, huge brown eyes, and bee-stung lips.
"I'm really proud of my Aboriginal heritage. I want to do well for my culture and my family," Harris said at the time. Her mother is Aboriginal while her father is German.
"She definitely has the potential to become an international superstar," said Kathy Ward, head of Chic Management, which represents Harris.
"Our affiliated agency in New York would have her there tomorrow, but our philosophy at the agency is that the girls finish their education. Down the track Samantha's got everything that will take her to the top."
It is a judgment echoed this month by the Sydney Morning Herald, which described Harris as being "on the brink of becoming the world's first Aboriginal supermodel."Aborigines have lived in Australia for at least 40,000 years, but they are now a minority with a population expected to reach 470,000 this year out of a total of 20 million. Many live in squalid outback camps, where unemployment, alcohol, and drug dependency and lawlessness are rife, while non-indigenous Australians are enjoying an unprecedented economic boom and first world lifestyle. Harris said that she had come to realize that Aboriginal girls seldom saw positive images of their race in the local media.
"I don't think I took much notice when I was little but as I got older I started to realize it," she said, adding that she was now "really proud" to be seen as a role model and loved the glamour of international modeling.
"Yeah, I enjoy it, it's really fun. My family are all really supportive. I used to do competitions when I was four. They have like little modeling shows for little kids when they're younger."
Now on the shortlist for an international campaign for American cosmetics company, Bobbi Brown, Harris has come a long way and likes the look of what lies ahead, once school is over.
"I think it would be fun moving to another country," said the motor mechanic's daughter from the Gold Coast tourist mecca south of Brisbane, adding that she liked New York because "it's so big and different."
Harris has been nominated for an award in this year's Deadlys, Australia's only national awards ceremony to recognize the contributions of indigenous people in the fields of entertainment, sport, and music.
A winner in 2003 was another Aboriginal woman who overcame the odds to become an Australian icon - Olympic gold medal sprinter Cathy Freeman, track darling of the 2000 Sydney Olympics. But Harris would probably prefer to follow in the footsteps of an Australian who wears a different kind of spikes - Elle "The Body" MacPherson, who made her name as a supermodel before launching her own lingerie line.