The Carrolup Native Settlement was established in 1915 in bushland between Katanning and Kojonup in the Great Southern region of Western Australia. At that time, the Government’s policy of segregation – as enshrined in The Aborigines Act of 1905 – was being enforced with renewed aggression. Later, policies of assimilation were notable for the devastating practise of forcibly removing Aboriginal children from their families. These children of the Stolen Generations were raised in contexts designed to educate and socialise them in ways that denied them access to their own Aboriginal families, culture, language and history.
The story of Carrolup reaches out to us across decades of silence from the middle of last century, giving voice to a remarkable group of people. Most importantly are the many young Aboriginal children forcibly removed from their families that created these artworks while confined at the Carrolup Native Settlement. Amongst these children of the Stolen Generations emerged artists with remarkable abilities to whom we must pay respect for their generosity of spirit and their resilience, overcoming great hardship to create works of such timeless and compelling beauty. Only a few of the children were able to continue making any artwork after leaving Carrolup – some only later in adult life – but names we have come to know from their work like Revel Cooper, Alma Cuttabut, Alan Kelly, Claude Kelly, Parnell Dempster, Reynold Hart, Milton Jackson and Barry Loo, to name but a few, are all recognised as playing an important part in maintaining Noongar culture and providing inspiration for subsequent generations of Noongar artists.
Beyond these children, three people in particular must also be acknowledged for their role in this remarkable story. Carrolup’s Headmaster Noel White and his wife Lily, are widely acknowledged for their extraordinary humanity and inspired vision. They provided the environment for the children at Carrolup to create these artworks during their brief but remarkable tenure teaching at the Settlement’s school from 1946–1950. When they arrived at Carrolup in May 1946, they found the conditions unacceptable and soon set about making changes for the benefit of all students – including the provision of new clothes, and overhauling the Settlement’s kitchen to provide more nutritious meals. Within a few weeks of their arrival, they discovered the power that art could play in these children’s lives as a catalyst for positive transformation. This realisation heralded the beginning of this period of flourishing Noongar culture we have come to know as Carrolup Art.
While Noel and Lily White facilitated the creation of these artworks, it was British philanthropist Mrs Florence Rutter who must be acknowledged for bringing them to the attention of the rest of the world. From the very first time she visited Carrolup in July 1949, Rutter was determined to promote the children’s artwork and help provide additional resources for use in the school for the children’s benefit. Sadly, the opportunity was short lived as the School and Settlement were abruptly closed in December 1950 – just when the children were at the height of their artistic powers. This closure marked the end of the first chapter in the story of Carrolup Art – a rich and vibrant story that continues to unfold through the work of contemporary Noongar artists. With this extraordinary Collection now back in Noongar Country, being preserved and shared, these artworks from Carrolup will continue to speak to us with voices of hope and inspiration.