"Educationalists, psychologists, anthropologists - all had their say, all endeavouring to solve the mystery of this new and unexpected form of child art." M.D. Miller and F. Rutter, 'Child Artists of the Australian Bush'
The Stolen Generations refers specifically to the Aboriginal children who were removed from their families, and often their country, between 1910 and the early 1970s as part of Australia's assimilationist policies.
These children were raised in non-Aboriginal institutions and families, and were forced to adopt new cultural values and ways of life. Many were physically, emotionally or sexually abused. Many never saw their families again.
In addition to losing their connection to country and family, as well as their culture and identity, these children were traumatised by their experiences. Many took to drinking alcohol as a means of coping with this trauma. Nearly every Aboriginal family in Australia was affected by these government policies.
Carrolup Native Settlement
Carrolup was run by the state Department of Native Affairs. The Protector of Aborigines hoped that the boys would be trained as agricultural labourers, and girls would obtain work as domestic servants. The children lived in squalid conditions and received little education until 1945.
The Child Artists and Their Art
“He soon won our confidence and respect, for Mr White was more than a teacher to us. This one man accomplished in a few short years what an whole Department could never do if they tried from now to eternity.” Revel Cooper, Fremantle Prison, 1960
When teacher Noel White arrived at Carrolup in May 1946, he was unable to communicate with the Aboriginal children as they were so fearful. As a last resort before resigning, Mr White took the children on a bush walk and asked them to draw what they saw. He was amazed by the beauty of their drawings.
Mr White introduced a program of personal development and education that helped transform the children. He inspired the children to create beautiful artworks that gained public recognition. The children also displayed outstanding educational, musical and sporting achievements.
Seventy-one year old English lady, Mrs Florence Rutter, visited Carrolup in 1949 and 1950 and was so impressed that she bought over 100 artworks. She showed these artworks around Australia and New Zealand, and later arranged exhibitions in the UK and Holland. They created a sensation in the press and attracted critical acclaim.
Mr White faced intense jealousies and conflicts with other white staff at Carrolup. The government decided to close the school at the end of 1950. One reason they gave was that the boys needed 'spiritual development'.
Later, Mrs Rutter fell on hard times financially and sold her Carrolup artworks to American television magnate Herbert Mayer who, in turn, gifted the collection to Colgate University in upstate New York. They remained there in obscurity for decades.
In 2004, a chance discovery of the Carrolup artworks by a visiting Australian academic eventually led to Colgate University transferring their collection to Noongar country in May 2013. The collection is now housed at John Curtin Gallery in Perth and is known as The Herbert Mayer Collection of Carrolup Artworks.
A Revel Cooper painting from his time in the Carrolup native settlement. (Phillips Collection)
John Curtin Gallery
"How we, us boys come to do such beautiful art work of scenic and bush scenes is that we spent all our precious work hours at school and weekend doing this work and three years of this took our art work to where it is today, and I say all honours are on Mr White who gave us the opportunity to improve our work..." Barry Albert Loo, as written in 'Child Artists of the Australia Bush' by M.D. Miller and F. Rutter
John Curtin Gallery
"Then he picked a batch of boys to do some drawings. He saw then that we had some talent, we practised on brown paper night after night for about two years and our drawings started to win the respect of white people. That was the year we had an exhibition of Art in Perth... Before Mr White came to Carrolup, nobody ever heard the name of Carrolup, but now it is nearly known all over the world." Reynold Hart, 'Child Artists of the Australia Bush'
John Curtin Gallery
"Now I am fourteen years old. I would like to be something good. I don't like camp life." Parnell Dempster, 'Child Artists of the Australia Bush'
Sadly, for Parnell and others at Carrolup, the Native Affairs system in Western Australia did little to prepare Aboriginal children for the life they would face in a white-dominated society in which they were considered inferior. Revel (far right in photo on left) was not the only Carrolup artist to later be caught up in the criminal justice system.