- Day 1 - Perth
Day 1 - Perth
The weather in Perth has been horrible - starting with a 3am thunderstorm which woke us both up - clap of thunder directly overhead!
Took us a while to get up and about with being up early whilst WA time caught up with us. Headed out firstly towards where I used ot live 25 years ago and called in there to drop off a couple of photos I had of when we built the house. No-one home so just dropped them in the letterbox.
Headed from there over to the coastline so we could follow the coast down to Fremantle rather than just whiz down the freeway. There is SO much growth in Perth it's amazing. It was very windy and rough on the ocean but stopped anyway for a few minutes just to check out the surf and a couple of photos of course.
Carried on down the coastline in the wind and rain and once in Fremantle found a deslightful old stone building "Fremantle Arts Centre' which we promptly just stopped at and had a wander through. It was a very quick wander as there was some weird and wacky display there which didn't interest either of us!
On to the Fremantle Old Gaol where we just made it onto a tour group which took us through the story of the prison to the present day.
Had a bit to eat there then headed to the John Curtin Gallery at the John Curtin University where we vivisted a display or artworks done by 7-14yr olds from the stolen generation. A great story and some amazing works of art that have now been shown around the world and done by these children with no artistic training at all. "The Stolen Generations homecoming" (See below)
From there we basically headed back to 'home' but had to pass by the Chocolate Factory in the Swan Valley to get there so will keep you guessing as to whether we stopped or not!
"The Stolen Generations homecoming"
On 100 sheets of paper, a small group of Aboriginal children in the 1940s and 50s drew their world in vivid colour and with such wistful depiction of country and kin that it stirs the emotions.
These institutionalised children, aged between eight and 14, left a haunting record of an idyll that was fading even as they grew up.
They drew plump kangaroos grazing in grass-tree and eucalypt woodlands; virile men performing corroborees around rings of flickering fire; light transforming their traditional country, creating silhouettes against a rosy dawn or an angry orange-red sundown.
The children had been corralled into the Carrolup Native Settlement, a group of rudimentary huts arranged around a schoolroom in southwest Western Australia.
From time to time, their families snuck through the bush to see their half-stolen offspring. A policy of assimilation required that they be alienated from their Nyoongar culture and language.
In 1946, an empathetic new headmaster, Noel White, and his wife, Lily, encouraged their wards to draw. It was an act of sheer desperation. "When we came to Carrolup ... we found the children somewhat wild, very shy, very frightened of us," White recalled later. "We just could not get through to them at all.
"We thought the position hopeless, and had almost decided to resign, when one day I saw a boy drawing some trees on a piece of brown paper. I patted his shoulder and, remarking they were very good, asked him how he would like to do some in colours if I got him the crayons. He looked at me for the first time, and just nodded."
The Whites bought crayons, pencils and ink, and spread paper before each child. They were astonished by what flowed on to the page. So was a visiting benefactress, Florence Rutter, who befriended the Whites, bundled up the children's best artwork and sent it on tour to Europe.
A few years later, Rutter found herself in financial strife. She sold the entire collection to New York art collector Herbert Mayer, who eventually bequeathed all 122 works on paper to his alma mater, Colgate University, in Hamilton, New York. By then, Carrolup Native Settlement had closed down, and its remarkable art had effectively disappeared into musty drawers at home and abroad and been largely forgotten.
This back story makes the homecoming of Carrolup art today at Curtin University in Perth a remarkable event. Heart Coming Home, or Koolark Koort Koorliny in Nyoongar, is an exhibition that celebrates the return to Western Australia of Mayer's entire Carrolup collection, much of which has never before been shown in public in Australia.
So what miraculous turn of events reversed the fate of this historic body of artworks? It begins with the box marked "Aboriginal Children's drawings" that Mayer gave to Colgate in 1966, as part of a much bigger art bequest.
The box sat on a shelf in Colgate's art archives until, in 2004, visiting academic Howard Morphy, from the Australian National University, was invited to lift the lid and peruse its contents. Morphy immediately recognised the vivid hues and lively black ink lines of Carrolup's child artists, a few of whom - talented youngsters such as Parnell Dempster, Reynold Hart and Revel Cooper - he knew had painted on into their adult years.
Scenes of hunting and wooded hills, detailed drawings of possums, illustrations of Nyoongar weapons, even decorated teapots, covered one or occasionally both sides of the slightly dog-eared piles of paper. There were striking landscape gems such as Dempster's Down to Drink, Barry Loo's On the Alert and Hart's A Native Corroboree.
Morphy's "rediscovery" might have ended there but for another happy coincidence in the Carrolup story. Soon afterwards, Colgate professor of geography Ellen Kraly travelled to Perth to conduct research into the Stolen Generations and how census material was used to control indigenous populations. Although Carrolup was not part of her field of study, a curious Kraly asked a local archivist where the native settlement was located. Discovering it was only a couple of hours' drive southeast of Perth, she hired a car and drove down to the nearest town of Katanning.
"I didn't know what I was looking for, so I went to the library and asked about the Carrolup settlement," says Kraly. "They immediately introduced me to Nyoongar leaders in the town, who said they'd heard about the 'rediscovery' of art at Colgate, but hadn't any idea where exactly the paintings were. And then I showed up!"
A short time later, Kraly found herself being escorted around Carrolup's abandoned outpost of decaying buildings in the bush. The place and its legacy made a deep impression. "The artworks themselves sing to me," explains Kraly. "If you get close to them, you can imagine these children putting their heart and soul into drawing these beautiful pieces."
Kraly's guide on that first visit was Ezzard Flowers, who runs the Mungart Boodja Art Centre in Katanning. His family is connected to several Carrolup wards but Flowers admits he grew up ignorant of its artistic output.
"I had no idea about those artworks until I went to America and saw them," says Flowers, who travelled to Colgate University in 2005 at Kraly's invitation. "Then I knew what I had to talk about. It's lifted my spirit and my art."
Flowers gave campus talks that triggered interest by Colgate students to visit Western Australia and Carrolup; Kraly now organises study trips as part of their undergraduate studies.
Then came another incremental step towards repatriation; in 2006, as part of the Perth International Arts Festival, 30 items from Colgate's collection travelled to Perth. They were displayed alongside works that had been dusted off and brought forward by local owners. They kept emerging, as word got round about this "lost" school of indigenous art.
That same year, the spirit of Carrolup pulsated through a huge Nyoongar canvas, the largest yet painted in southern Australia and the centrepiece of Perth's 2006 arts festival. In one section of the 40sq m canvas, the children's idiosyncratic high-colour-and-silhouette style was echoed by artist Lance Chadd Tjyllyungoo, descendant of a Carrolup child.
"That first time some of the works came back, it inspired all the local artists in Nyoongar country," observes Flowers. "There'll be more ripples around the pond when they come back home for good."
That day has come. In May, Flowers and former Carrolup resident Angus Wallam signed a memorandum of understanding between Colgate officials and Curtin University. Colgate has given its entire collection to Australia, on the strict understanding that Curtin - which has a large indigenous student enrolment - will make it readily accessible to its cultural owners.
"Our mandate is to conserve, preserve and present the collection," says Chris Malcolm, director of John Curtin Gallery and co-curator of the Heart Coming Home exhibition. "It's physically not possible to display them on the walls, because they'd fade within 10 years. But having this exhibition of all the works so soon after we have received them is our way of demonstrating how serious we are about sharing them."
Flowers and Kraly will stand side by side at today's opening ceremony. Flowers says he is still overwhelmed by Colgate's generosity. "For us, it's reclaiming history and for them to let it go for no fee is amazing. We will welcome the spirits of those wandering kids back to where they belong."
As for Kraly: "I'd say this is the biggest project of my career and yet I have written not one academic paper about it. I guess I feel like a public scholar who has been able to use her training in a way that works way beyond the classroom. I feel so happy the goodwill is rippling out from the centre."
Koolark Koort Koorliny (Heart Coming Home) is at the John Curtin Gallery until October 6.