One hundred and twenty two beautiful but fragile artworks, each with a powerful story behind them.
These artworks are the centrepiece of Curtin University’s new Carrolup Centre for Truth-telling, designed to commemorate young Aboriginal children of the Stolen Generation.
The artworks in The Herbert Mayer Collection of Carrolup Artwork were produced by Aboriginal children detained at the Carrolup Native Settlement, in WA’s Great Southern region, in the 1940s.
Fittingly, an event to establish the centre fell on Tuesday 10 November, three days into NAIDOC Week.
Fremantle’s chief executive Simon Garlick, Indigenous & Multicultural Liaison Officer Roger Hayden and Head of Community Engagement Simon Eastaugh were in attendance.
“It’s just fantastic to see the local community coming to Curtin to understand and see firsthand what happened at Carrolup,” Hayden said.
“It was very powerful to be here and it’s truly so special to see Simon Eastaugh and Simon Garlick here too.”
Stolen from their families, the children were kept at the Carrolup Native Settlement as part of a government policy of forced segregation and assimilation that was in place for most of the 20th century in WA.
The artworks caught the eye of a visiting English philanthropist and from there they were toured and exhibited across Europe.
Bouncing around, the art was sold to a New York collector who then donated the entire collection to Colgate University in New York State.
It was here that all 122 pieces sat in storage for almost 50 years, before they were recognised by chance by a visiting Australian professor.
Having understood their significance, Colgate University decided to repatriate the works back to Noongar Country and, after consulting with local Noongar Elders, offered the custodial responsibilities to Curtin University through its John Curtin Gallery.
For Hayden, the day brought about an unexpected significance after finding out one of the stories from Carrolup carried a strong personal connection.
“I was going through the photos on the wall looking at the children and one of the names that popped up was one of my ‘Pops’ that I had as a kid growing up in Brookton,” Hayden said.
“That was a little bit emotional, just seeing him as a kid in that place and hearing what they would have went through, but not really knowing that when I was growing up.
“It was really powerful to see that, I messaged my Dad straight after and he said ‘yep that’s him, same face, same name’
“In Aboriginal culture ‘pop’ is a respect term…my grandfather would have a lot of cousins and brothers and out of respect you would use ‘nan’ and ‘pop’ regardless of who they were.”
The discovery allowed Hayden to reflect on his upbringing in the Wheatbelt town of Brookton.
“It just brought back memories of when I was growing up…a few of us kids would go out bush and I remember grabbing a couple of boys and going down to the golf course just outside of town,” Hayden said.
“We would bring back some ‘karda’ (‘goanna’ in Noongar language) and give it to him and I just remember the trench coat he had on and the bike he would ride around town.
“It was a nice moment to see him on the wall and reflect a little bit on my childhood and growing up and on some of the things you remember.
“To be there was truly powerful and to be part of that as a club was really good.”
The full collection is now on display at Curtin University under the guiding hand of the Carrolup Elders Reference Group.
The group’s chairperson Tony Hansen acknowledged the strength of the children behind the art.
“The Carrolup Centre will commemorate how young Aboriginal children – separated from their families, isolated, segregated, traumatised and living in an unknown place – still found beauty and connection to Country through their art,” Hansen said.
“It will be an enduring reminder that while racism seeks to destroy all that is good about a people, it never can.
“Like water, cultural beauty and goodness always finds a way; at Carrolup, that way was through children.”
The mothers of Aboriginal women Dianna Coyne and Carmen Roberts were two of those children in a Carrolup mission in the 1940’s.
The creation of the Carrolup Centre for Truth-telling brought back strong emotions and memories for the pair.
“This is absolutely wonderful, it’s beautiful to be here,” Coyne said.
“Everybody who spoke today really brought home the sadness of the Stolen Generations and what happened in Australia.
“It’s so nice that we are all coming together to try and bring everyone together as one.”
“Our mothers were in a Carrolup mission with these young kids who did the artwork, so for me it brought back a lot of memories,” Roberts said.
“Through their sorrow, we are bringing the joy back into our lives…we hope that everyone can pull together as one.”
Emeritus Professor and Aboriginal Elder Simon Forrest, Curtin University Vice-Chancellor John Cordery and Governor of Western Australia The Hon. Kim Beazley ACaddressed the 280-strong crowd with a powerful sentiment.
“This land we know as Australia, was, is and always will be Aboriginal land,” Forrest said.
“The Centre for Truth-telling is a centre of hope for the reconciliation of all people,” Beazley said.
“These artworks are an important reminder why the stories of the Stolen Generations should never disappear,” Cordery said.
Australia’s first Indigenous Australian Treasurer Ben Wyatt also reflected on the stories behind the art.
“When we look at this art…we see this incredible story of resilience, pride and beauty out of Carrolup,” Wyatt said.
“(Curtin University) have created something quite extraordinary and something I think that will be held in great pride in Western Australia.”
The hope for Curtin University’s Centre for Truth-telling is to become a focal point for reflection on the history of Indigenous dispossession and discrimination, examine its consequences across generations and commit to walking together to create a just and inclusive future.
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