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Curtin University of Technology
John Curtin Gallery

School Children
Carrolup Native Settlement School, January 1950


This photograph shows school children at one of the regular recreation evenings in the main classroom of the State School, Carrolup Native Settlement in January 1950. Noel and Lily White with their children Ross and Jenny and visitors from Katanning are standing at the back of the room.
Photograph by Noelene White, courtesy of the Noelene White Collection.

Carrolup’s Headmaster Noel White and his wife Lily were determined to transform the lives of the Aboriginal children in their care after arriving at Carrolup in May 1946. Combined with their success improving the children’s living conditions, the music and art programs they introduced into the classroom proved to be a powerful catalyst for change and evolved into regular ‘recreation evenings’ on Saturdays held in the senior school classroom. These evenings would often involve the presentation of films for the children, singing, dancing or the performance of plays. Often visitors would arrive from nearby towns to view the children’s artworks and witness the cultural activities in the classroom. This extremely rare photograph was taken during one of these recreation evenings where the children could spend the evening socialising together outside of the confinement of their dormitories. For many years prior to the White’s arrival at Carrolup the children suffered deplorable living conditions and were locked up in their dormitories every afternoon where they remained until the following morning. The dormitories had little bedding, and no lighting so these recreational evenings were a stark contrast to the bleak conditions the children had endured for several years previously.

The walls of the classroom are covered in dozens of the children’s artworks. Hundreds of these drawings were created by the children at Carrolup from mid-1946 until 1950. Their acclaimed artwork was first shown publicly at the Katanning Agricultural Show in October 1946 and was exhibited publicly from that time right up until the surprise visit of British philanthropist Mrs Florence Rutter to Carrolup in July 1949. Her visit heralded a dramatic surge in promotion of the children’s artwork both nationally and internationally, through exhibitions across Australia, New Zealand and Europe. This unprecedented level of international recognition and celebration of the children’s artwork proved problematic for Government Departments struggling to acknowledge its long term benefits for the children. Disagreements over control of the children increased throughout 1950, causing major disruption to both their education and art practice at a time of increasing opportunity for exhibitions. The Department of Native Affairs maintained the children should be trained according to the Settlement’s purpose – training the boys as agricultural labourers and the girls as domestic servants. Regrettably the situation continued to deteriorate until the Settlement was abruptly and unceremoniously closed in December 1950. This devastating decision signaled the end of a unique flowering of culture and was of such profound disappointment to Noel and Lily White they would lament its demise for the rest of their lives.

“When we came to Carrolup 3½ years ago we found the children somewhat wild, very shy, very frightened of us. We just could not get through to them at all. We thought the position hopeless, and had almost decided to resign, when one day (about a week after our arrival) 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 his head. I bought some crayons and drawing paper and set them to work. Neither my wife nor I draw, so the children were left entirely to their own devices. We gave them two afternoons a week to develop their art in their own way, giving no advice or direction at all. We encouraged them by praising their work and taking a keen interest in it.”
Mr Noel White, Headmaster, Carrolup Native Settlement School, January 1950.