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Kaya wanju, hello and welcome.

The John Curtin Gallery and Curtin University acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which Curtin Perth is located, the Whadjuk people of the Nyungar Nation. We pay our deepest respects to our ancestors and Elders, past and present, our emerging leaders and those of our respective Nations. We acknowledge the stories, traditions and living cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on this land.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are warned that photographs/videos on this page may contain images of deceased persons, which may cause sadness or distress.

Carrolup Coolingah Wirn.
The Spirit of Carrolup Children.

The first exhibition curated by Michelle Broun,
Curator of Australian First Nations Art
at John Curtin Gallery.

Aboriginal children (coolingah) are nurtured by our families (moort) and grow up with knowledge our ancestors have passed down from generation to generation, sustaining the oldest living culture on earth and ensuring our spiritual, physical and emotional well-being.

Noongar and other Australian First Nations communities are working with Curtin University to share stories from the Carrolup River Native Settlement and other places where Aboriginal children and families were detained against their will.

We share our experiences and histories of the impact of invasion and ongoing colonisation, including the Stolen Generations, to promote healing and find common ground on which to build a shared future.

Curtin University is committed to work with all Australians and peoples from across the world, including our First Nations peoples, reflecting its values, and affirming its role as leaders in truth-telling and to seek peace, justice and equality for all.

For more information on our ambitious project to create a permanent home for the Carrolup artworks,
please visit The Carrolup Centre for Truth-telling.

Connection to Country

Once known child artist, The Golden Road c1949
Pastel and charcoal on paper. Curtin University Art Collection

Noongar and other Aboriginal groups have lived on this Country since the beginning of time.

We believe natural landscapes and sacred sites were created by Ancestral beings during the Creation time. Beings such as the Waugal (waa-gal) and Maajit (maa-jit), known as Rainbow Serpents, created the world and everything in it. They created the laws for humans too and have special powers.

Our cultures, wisdoms and spiritual beliefs have been passed on for thousands of generations through story, song, ceremony, and art.

Our science and knowledge have sustained our people for millennia and are still relevant today.

The children of Carrolup in their classroom with Noel and Lily White and visitors from Katanning c1948.

Photographer Noelene White, courtesy Noel & Lily White Collection

1. Ross White; 2. Janette White; 3. Joe Scanlan; 4. Noel White; 5. Heather Scanlan; 6. Peggy Scanlan; 7. Shirley Scanlan; 8. Lily White; 9. Once known; 10. Once known; 11. Gordon Beeck; 12. Mavis Beeck; 13. Anton Kalnins; 14. Dulcie Penny; 15. Syd Jackson; 16. Mickey Jackson; 17. Brian Colbung; 18. Elizabeth lndich; 19. Lindsay Wallam; 20. Geoffrey Stack; 21. Ines Smith; 22. Bessie Smith; 23. John Cuttabut; 24. Shirley Wallam; 25. Margaret Bennell; 26. Alice Mead; 27. Philip Jackson; 28. Joyce Colbung; 29. Marlene Mead; 30. Janine Bennell; 31. Keith lndich; 32. Tilly Wallam; 33. Ross Jones; 34. Once known; 35. Once known; 36. Parnell Dempster; 37. Vera Wallam; 38. Mervyn Smith; 39. Once known; 40. Reynold Hart; 41. Revel Cooper; 42. Emily Bennett; 43. Once known; 44. Johnny Smith; 45. Edith Smith; 46. Once known.

Kwoperdok wirn, koort, moort.
Strong spirit, heart, family.

Our Elders teach our children all the lessons of life. These are embedded in songs, languages, and rituals.

Children learn about their relationship to the environment, the six Noongar seasons, the flowering and fruiting of plants, animal behaviours and weather patterns. They are taught about the creation of rivers, hills and constellations, and to respect the geographical boundaries of other kinship and language groups.

We are the custodians of the oldest living cultures on Earth. Our cultural knowledge is linked directly to our identity and our emotional, physical, and spiritual health and well-being.

Once known child artist, The Blue of the Sky c1949
Pastel and charcoal on paper. Curtin University Art Collection

Noongar moort, Noongar coolingah.
Noongar families, Noongar children.

Our children are born into a complex social structure. They are assigned a moiety which guides them in marriage and relationships. On Whadjuk Boodja these are the wardong (raven) kin group and maanitj (white cockatoo) kin group.

Birthing, caring for, and educating children, and rites of passage are governed by strict rules and protocols. Our babies are given totems, like kaarda (blue-tongued lizard) or the chirriger (blue wren), that guide them through their physical and spiritual lives.

We all have responsibilities to care for the plants and animals which sustain us.

Vividness and Truth

Exhibition of Carrolup art at Boans department store,
The West Australian, 23rd October 1947.
Courtesy Noelene White

With care and nurturing from their teachers, the children’s confidence grew, and they became prolific artists. Exhibitions were held across the Great Southern region and in Perth.

The children’s schoolwork and overall health improved.

The boys and girls of Carrolup surprised and excited many audiences including government officials.

In 1947 many of the artworks sold during an exhibition on the third floor of the Boans Department store, Perth.

Highly acclaimed writer Dorothy Hewett described the exhibition ‘…like walking into the vigorous adventure of a child’s mind’. And she found ‘vividness and truth’ in the drawings.

Officials viewed them as the successful outcome of their assimilation policies.

Carrolup Coolingah – a Stolen Generation

Our strong ties to country and kin were disrupted by the arrival of the British on Noongar Boodja in 1829.

Less than 80 years after invasion, The Aborigines Act, 1905 (the 1905 Act) was passed through Parliament in Western Australia. It was one of many laws designed to criminalise and subjugate Aboriginal people. It had profound and ongoing consequences for our moort (families). This Act, and the 1936 amendment, permitted the State Government to forcibly take our children away, to be indoctrinated into the white culture.

Even so, the strength and resilience of Aboriginal spirituality and culture endured. At the Carrolup Native Settlement in the 1940s, a group of young Aboriginal detainees created hundreds of artworks at the Carrolup School. These children are remembered as the ‘Child Artists of Carrolup’. Their artworks provide an insight into the experiences of a Stolen Generation, and have inspired generations of artists, writers and film-makers.

Once known child artist, Untitled c1949
Pastel and charcoal on paper. Curtin University Art Collection

Child Artists of Carrolup

In 1946, teachers Noel and Lily White arrived at the Carrolup Native Settlement to find a group of neglected and traumatised children who were ‘difficult to reach’.

After several frustrating weeks, Noel found a way to the hearts and minds of the children through art. He started regular ‘rambles’ in the surrounding bushland. On return to the classroom, he encouraged them to ‘draw what you saw’.

The children took inspiration from the natural environment and their Noongar culture to create an epic collection of drawings, paintings, and designs for textiles and ceramics. Many artworks are lively and colourful, representing local landscapes and culture. Some artworks are dark and brooding, while others are pictorial social studies or science classroom projects.

Ripples in the pond

Mrs Florence Rutter – international acclaim

The story of Carrolup’s child artists attracted the attention of English philanthropist Mrs Florence Rutter, who became pivotal in the Carrolup story.

Whilst visiting her sister in Perth in 1949, Florence came across an article about the Carrolup artists in a local fashion and social commentary magazine, Milady. She caught a train 300km south to Katanning and travelled to the Settlement to meet the artists and their teachers. Her visit boosted the children’s enthusiasm and passion for art making.

Mrs Rutter became a strong advocate of the Carrolup artists and publicly applauded Noel White’s teaching methods. She arranged exhibitions across Australia and New Zealand, as well as the Netherlands, and the UK where she sold many works. In 1951 in Manchester, Mrs Rutter visited the Cotton Board, presenting designs for print. She opened a trust account for the school. She sent art supplies and introduced the children to new techniques such as oil painting

Mrs Florence Rutter at the 45th Annual Exhibtion of the Royal London Pastel Society in London, 1951
Parnell Dempster’s artwork, ‘Down to Drink’ with Mr and Mrs Richter. Courtesy Noelene White

Parnell Dempster holding his artwork during a visit by Mrs Florence Rutter, Carrolup, January, 1950.
Courtesy Noelene White

Children and art lost to the system

Mrs Rutter’s aspirations for the children were not shared by the Department whose agenda was to train the girls as domestic slaves, and the boys as farmhands. In 1950 the Superintendent closed the school, and most children ‘dispersed’ to Mogumber, Wandering and Roelands Missions. A small cohort of boys stayed on to form the Marribank Farm School.

I am very sorry to say that we are not allowed to draw after school
or at nights because Mr. Sully the Superintendent put a stop to it. […] Mrs Rutter, I hope you won’t be angry with us […] it’s not our fault.

-Reynold Hart, c1950

Several years later in failing health, Mrs Rutter succumbed to financial hardship and sold the collection of remaining Carrolup artworks to American collector Herbert Mayer. He donated the collection to Colgate University, New York, where they lay undisturbed for four decades.

Koolark koort koorliny

Ezzard Flowers at the opening of the Koolark Korl Kadjin exhibition in Katanning, 2015, with artwork by Barry Loo, At Bay c1949.
Courtesy Brad Coleman, John Curtin Gallery

Heart Coming Home

In 2004, Prof. Howard Morphy of the Australian National University was giving a lecture at Colgate University. He was invited to view a ‘collection of Australian children’s art’ in the Picker Art Gallery. It happened to be Herbert Mayer’s collection of 122 Carrolup artworks, which had been ‘hidden’ for over four decades.

The artworks were later authenticated by Noongar Elders, Ezzard Flowers and Athol Farmer when they travelled to New York with Dr John Stanton.

Colgate University loaned a selection of artworks to be exhibited in Katanning for the Koorah Coolingah (Children Long Ago) exhibition, Perth Festival, 2006. The Noongar community embraced them as they would long-lost relatives. So began a journey of healing.

Smoking Ceremony performed by Associate Professor Simon Forrest at the Centre of Aboriginal Studies, Curtin University, when the artworks first arrived in 2013.
Courtesy Amanda Alderson, John Curtin Gallery

Caring for a Cultural Icon

The Noongar community forged a relationship with key Colgate University staff that regularly visited Perth and came to understand the cultural significance of the collection.

This understanding was nurtured by Prof. Ellen Percy Kraly and culminated in a commitment that ensured the entire collection of 122 Carrolup artworks was returned to Western Australia in 2013. Known as The Herbert Mayer Collection of Carrolup Artwork, it is now cared for by John Curtin Gallery with support from the Carrolup Elders Reference Group.

This unique collection joins other Carrolup artworks in Western Australian collections. There are many more artworks to be discovered, artists to be identified and families to be reconnected.

Karnany waanginy.

Once known child artist, Shades of Night c1949 (reproduction)
Pastel and charcoal on paper. Curtin University Art Collection

Impact of Colonisation

Since initial contact between Australia’s First Peoples and the British invaders, consecutive governments have created laws to criminalise and control Aboriginal people.

Colonisation was enshrined in a series of racist Parliamentary Acts and legislation. These policies were administered under the premise of white superiority.

In Western Australia, A.O. Neville was appointed Chief Protector of Aborigines at the Department of Aborigines and Fisheries in 1915. He ruthlessly administered the 1905 Act which deemed all Aboriginal children ‘Wards of the State.’

This resulted in the segregation, dislocation, and total control of Aboriginal people. It allowed the forced removal of thousands of children across generations, in an attempt to force assimilation.

School students assembled between the two classrooms, at the Carrolup State School, Carrolup Native Settlement c1947.
Courtesy Noelene White

Removed, Stolen and Detained

Across Australia, Aboriginal families were forced from their traditional lands. Many lived in poverty on the outskirts of towns.

In the early 1900s in Katanning, Noongar children attended the local State school. But the town’s white residents pressured A.O. Neville to segregate Aboriginal families. In 1915, he established the Carrolup Native Settlement 20 km from town.

In 1922, the Settlement was forced to close after reports of child neglect and abuse perpetrated by officials. The families were relocated to the Moore River Native Settlement.When Carrolup reopened in 1939 under the policy of assimilation, many children from surrounding districts were detained there. The story of abuse and constant disruption is common amongst Stolen Generations.

Carrolup was one of nearly 100 Government sanctioned institutions involved in the segregation and assimilation of Aboriginal people in Western Australia.

Click on the map above to view an interactive map showing the extent of Aboriginal ‘Missions’ in Western Australia.

Cultural Genocide

In 1946, at age 6, Bigali, was arrested and forcibly removed from her family. Along with a group of other children stolen from the district, she was jailed at Roebourne Prison for a week.

The children were then transported to Perth, and Bigali was detained at Sister Kate’s Children’s Cottage Home, Queens Park, ‘The Home for lighter-skinned children’. As part of the assimilation process, she was renamed Sudan Raymond.

Copy of the form for Bigali’s arrest from Bigali’s personal file.
Courtesy Bigali Hanlon

Bigali Hanlon c1942 at Mulga Downs Station homestead in the Pilbara where her Mother Eijit was a domestic slave.
Photographer unknown, Courtesy Bigali Hanlon

Pain and Grief

As Wards of the State, it was common for Aboriginal children to become malnourished and diseased in overcrowded and under resourced institutions. Many suffered physical abuse. Some did not survive.

When Mr and Mrs White arrived in 1946, most children could not read or write. Grieving for their families, children were locked in dormitories at night without water or sanitation. Nutrition was poor. Fighting was rife. Solitary confinement was used as routine punishment for both girls and boys.

Recently investigations have begun into the deaths of First Nations Canadian children at Canadian Residential Schools. This has been a catalyst for further investigations into child deaths, cemeteries, and unmarked graves at Western Australian mission and native settlement sites.

Students of the combined classes at Carrolup State School, Carrolup Native Settlement, winter 1945.

Courtesy Elliot family

1. Revel Cooper; 2. Claude Kelly; 3. Parnell Dempster. 4. Once known 5. Once known; 6. Reynold Hart; 7. Ross Jones; 8. Mervyn Smith; 9. Angelo Ugle; 10. Once known; 11. Once known; 12. Olive Elliot; 13. Alan Loo ; 14. Once known; 15. Once known; 16. Once known; 17. Lindsay Wallam; 18. Once known; 19. Once known; 20. Ken Sutherland; 21. Once known; 22. Once known; 23. Once known; 24. Dulcie Penny; 25. Once known; 26. Once known; 27. Once known; 28. Mildred Jones; 29. Once known; 30. Once known; 31. Once known; 32. Raphael Edgill; 33. Once known; 34. Caroline Moses; 35. Once known ; 36. Rosemary Cuttabutt; 37. Inis Smith; 38. Breely Bennell; 39. Once known; 40. Alma Cuttabutt; 41. Once known; 42. Once known; 43. John Cuttabutt; 44. Bernard Smith; 45. Once known; 46. Jean Sutherland; 47. Once known; 48. Barry Loo; 49. Once known; 50. Once known.

Once known child artist, Untitled c1949
Pastel, charcoal and graphite on paper. Curtin University Art Collection

Life After Carrolup

Aboriginal children were trained to become domestic slaves and farm hands.

Young teenagers were used as cheap labour by farmers, pastoralists, and the gentry. There were many reports of physical abuse.

Many young people had no means of support and ended up in prison. This cycle of incarceration continues today with Aboriginal people suffering the highest rates of death in custody in Australia.

Currently the age of criminal responsibility in Australia is only 10 years old which contravenes the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. The “Raise the Age” campaign is led nationally and internationally by Dr. Hannah McGlade and others who work tirelessly for the rights of children.

Prison Art

After leaving Carrolup, the children lacked family and other support and often struggled with life.

As young men, Revel Cooper, Reynold Hart, and others were jailed for various offences. They endured a cycle of incarceration over many years, and were detained at prisons including Pardelup Prison Farm, Bunbury and Fremantle Prisons. There they met other Stolen Generation people, including cousins and brothers. They were also reacquainted with their Carrolup teacher Noel White who was teaching numeracy, literacy, and art in Fremantle Prison in the 1960s.

The large quantity of artworks, mainly landscapes created by Noongar people in prison, is known as ‘Prison Art’. The style attributed to Carrolup artists, is etched into the hearts and minds of Noongar people.

Reynold Hart, Untitled c1965
Gouache on paper. Curtin University Art Collection

Art After Carrolup

A number of Carrolup artists continued their art practice into adulthood.

Alma Toomath (Cuttabutt) began her art career at Carrolup at age five. She was the first Aboriginal women in Western Australia

to complete a Diploma in Fine Arts and majored in sculpture.

Alma participated in many solo and group exhibitions. In 1996, she was awarded NAIDOC Artist of the Year, and Senior

Artist of the Year in 2001. Her daughter and granddaughter continue her legacy through their work in culture and the

arts. Alma passed away in early 2021.

Barry Loo

In 1950 at the age of 14, Barry Loo and Mervyn Smith were employed by the Department of Native Affairs in Perth. It was there that Barry met Mrs Rutter who gifted him art materials. In 1951 he sent several of his artworks to her in the UK. Two of these pieces are now part of The Herbert Mayer Collection of Carrolup Artwork. One of these, Bounding For Home, has become an iconic image representing the Carrolup story.

At the time of writing, Barry’s sister, Maisie Weston, is the oldest remaining member of the group from Carrolup. Her children and grandchildren carry her stories on to the next generation.

Alma Toomath (Cuttabutt)

A number of Carrolup artists continued their art practice into adulthood. Alma Toomath (Cuttabutt) began her art career at Carrolup at age five. She was the first Aboriginal woman in Western Australia to complete a Diploma in Fine Arts and majored in sculpture.

Alma participated in many solo and group exhibitions. In 1996, she was awarded NAIDOC Artist of the Year, and Senior Artist of the Year in 2001. Her daughter and granddaughter continue her legacy through their work in culture and the arts. Alma passed away in early 2021.

Chirriger Dreaming

From Left: Peter Farmer Junior (held), Miranda Farmer (nee Yarran) and Peter Farmer, 1999.
Courtesy Peter Farmer and Miranda Farmer

Peter Farmer is a Noongar man born in Gnowangerup near Katanning in 1971. He is part of a large cultural group representing Whadjuk, Minang, Wilman and Wardandi peoples.

At birth, Peter was given his totem, the chirriger (blue wren) which was passed down from his great-grandmother on his father’s side. Chirriger guides Peter spiritually and connects him to country. In 1952 Marribank was established by the Baptist Union on the site of the old Carrolup Native Settlement. Peter lived there for 9 years with other family members during the 1980s. His Mother Fay and his Aunties were part of the Marribank Artists Cooperative. They are widely known for their ceramics and batiks on silk.

With inspiration from his Nyoongar culture and family, including the child artists of Carrolup, Peter has forged a highly successful arts career. In 2001, Peter graduated from Curtin University with a BA in Fine Arts. He has participated in many group exhibitions and had several solo exhibitions. He is represented in public and private collections and at the Western Australian Museum Boola Bardip.

His most recent artworks are large scale public art installations, including digital works. The tiny chirriger, its brilliant blue flashing as it dances and hops through the bush, continues to inspire him.

Truth, Justice and Healing

Our communities have fought to keep our cultures and families strong and connected.

Programs such as Link-up are designed to reconnect survivors of the Stolen Generations. In WA this service is delivered through Yorgum and supported by the Family History Unit of AIATSIS, Canberra. It helps survivors navigate government agencies, decipher records and provides emotional support.

In 2008 Prime Minister Kevin Rudd delivered the National Apology to Indigenous Australians, particularly the Stolen Generations. A fund was established for The Healing Foundation to support the survivors and descendants of the harmful legacies of colonisation. It undertakes research, provides a platform for sharing stories, and resources for healing programs.

Yokai, a local initiative, advocates for the delivery of the 54 recommendations of the Bringing Them Home Report (1997). It aims to achieve truth, justice and healing for the survivors of the Stolen Generation and their families.

The Carrolup project builds on this important community led work by sharing the artworks and stories of the child artists of Carrolup.

The Healing Journey

Alma Toomath (1940-2021) signing her hand print at the Koolark Korl Kadjin exhibition in Katanning, 2015.
Courtesy Brad Coleman, John Curtin Gallery

The Healing Journey

The experiences and stories of the children of Carrolup resonate with those of other members of the Stolen Generations across Australia. These children have inspired the Carrolup Centre for Truth-Telling that is being developed within the John Curtin Gallery as the permanent home for The Herbert Mayer Collection of Carrolup Artworks.

Through this Centre, the Gallery will provide platforms to address the ongoing impact of invasion and colonisation, the disproportionate rate Aboriginal of incarceration and deaths in custody, and the rights of women and children. It will generate opportunities for us all to participate in a journey of healing, to create a more just and equitable world for everyone.

Syd Jackson at the opening of the Carrolup/ Marribank Reunion, John Curtin Gallery, 2018.
Courtesy Brad Coleman, John Curtin Gallery

Leaders and Role Models

Stolen Generations children have overcome great challenges to achieve rewarding lives and careers. Revel Cooper, Reynold Hart, Alma Toomath and other Carrolup children, became successful artists. Others became lawyers, doctors, government and community leaders and human rights advocates. The strength and tenacity of the survivors of the Stolen Generations have inspired generations of the Aboriginal people and broader community.

Some of our people have become great sports leaders and continue to make important contributions to community healing. Syd Jackson was a youngster at Carrolup when the older boys practiced art. When Carrolup was closed, he was sent to Roelands Mission. Syd overcame huge barriers to play for the Carlton Football Club in Melbourne where he remains an eminent figure. Syd is also a tireless worker in the community, promoting and delivering healing programs through Roelands Village, Red Dust Healing and MIDALA (Making a difference and looking ahead).