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Curtin University of Technology
John Curtin Gallery

School Children
Carrolup Native Settlement School c1945-46


Photographer unknown, courtesy Mrs Coral Elliot.

This photograph of Aboriginal students from the State School at the Carrolup Native Settlement was taken sometime between July 1945 and May 1946. It shows the combined classes lined up alongside the junior school classroom at Carrolup. Standing at far left is Mrs Olive Elliot – a qualified teacher with many years experience working in remote and regional schools throughout Western Australia since the late 1920s. Mrs Elliot had applied for, and was transferred to the position as teacher at Carrolup taking over the teaching responsibilities from the start of the school year in January 1945.

“ The Education Dept. was opening up a couple of native schools further south and calling for volunteers to teach. Always ready for a challenge, I applied for the smaller class 5 school and eventually, when I’d almost forgotten my application, I received word of my transfer to take charge with one assistant to help me. I put my two older children into a home that boarded country students and took the youngest with me. The settlement made us welcome and school started two days later. I took the larger students into my room, large hall, while the assistant took the little ones into an adjacent room that looked like an ordinary, single roomed rural school.”
Mrs Olive Elliot, from an unpublished manuscript.

Mrs Elliot had responsibility for the older children in the larger stone-built classroom and her assistant Miss Blond taught the younger children in the smaller weatherboard classroom. Within the first six months of starting the school year in 1945, four of Carrolup’s most renowned artists were students in Mrs Elliot’s class – Revel Cooper, Parnell Dempster, Reynold Hart and Barry Loo.
After a full year of teaching at Carrolup, Mrs Elliot concluded the school needed ‘the firm hand of a male teacher’. Whilst visiting her family’s hometown of Geraldton during the Christmas school holidays in January 1946, she visited the home of Mr Noel White at the small railway siding of Narngulu, east of Geraldton. Noel White was living in Narngulu with his wife Lily and their young family, where he had been the teacher at the single-roomed school since 1935. Mrs Elliot invited him to consider the role as Carrolup’s Headmaster and teacher and take up the challenge of working for the benefit of the Aboriginal children within the recently re-opened Carrolup Native Settlement.

Noel White had previous experience working with Aboriginal students, having taught a class of predominantly Aboriginal students at the remote school in Payne’s Find between 1930–35. Over the following decade he became a highly respected member of the community and earned a reputation for his mercurial approach to teaching – combining strict discipline with a much admired fairness – that earned the respect of students as well as the broader community at Narngulu. Combining this disciplined approach with considerable musical skills and insight, he had become a formidable teacher with an unwavering commitment to maximise the opportunities for his students to learn. After due consideration, he and his wife Lily accepted the invitation to relocate to the Carrolup Native Settlement. Together, they packed up their young family and headed for Carrolup via Perth and Katanning at the end of first term in May 1946. This proved to be a momentous decision that would affect generations, starting with these young Aboriginal children of the Stolen Generations incarcerated at Carrolup between 1946–1950.

“ They are normally happy friendly people with a love for life but can be deeply hurt by a wrong word or lack of thought… I went there with the light of battle in my eyes but finished with a deep affection for those children and an understanding of what it meant to be an Aboriginal in a white man’s world... I don’t think that it was ‘will’ that took me there. I believe that it was destiny for I had as much to learn from them as they had from me.”
Mrs Olive Elliot, from an unpublished manuscript.