The search begins for precious Australian children’s artworks in the UK
Households across the United Kingdom are urged to be on the lookout for hundreds of precious artworks created by Australian First Nations children who were forcibly taken from their families in the 1940s.
A selection of the treasured collection created by Aboriginal children interned at the remote Western Australian settlement of Carrolup in the 1940s will be showcased at The Portico Library in Manchester until September 26 and the University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel from October 5 to November 11.
It is the first time this selection of artworks has returned to the UK in 70 years – after London Soroptimist Club Founding President Mrs Florence Rutter first met the artists and arranged exhibitions across London, Manchester, Birmingham, Liverpool, Edinburgh and Glasgow during the 1950s. Proceeds from the sale of the artworks were used to purchase more drawing materials for the children at Carrolup.
Mrs Rutter recognised the significance of the works after visiting Carrolup in 1949, where teachers Noel and Lily White had found a way into the hearts of the children through art. Many Carrolup children became prolific artists, surprising the world with their ability to reveal their deep understanding of Country – Nyungar Boodja.
The children’s paintings set off on what turned out to be an incredible 65-year journey circumnavigating the world, including a 40-year hiatus in the US, where the works lay undiscovered in storage at Colgate University in New York.
John Curtin Gallery Director Mr Chris Malcolm is calling on the broader UK community to help find any other missing works created by the children of Carrolup in the 1940s so they may be documented as part of the healing journey of the descendants of the artists.
“We are encouraging people across the UK to help our global search for these culturally significant drawings by checking their attics, cupboards and households for any similar artworks,” Mr Malcolm said.
“The key clues that people need to be looking out for include the use of chalk on paper and many depict the Australian landscape and wildlife, including kangaroos. We would urge everyone to see for themselves at the new two exhibitions in Manchester and Glasgow which tell this incredible story.
Reynold Hart, a native corroboree
“A critical part of the reconciliation process for addressing the wrongs of the past include uncovering these priceless artworks as they could be the only physical connection a family has with their ancestors. The artworks form a basis from which we can deepen our knowledge and understanding of our past, and help us walk together towards a better future.”
Since 2013, John Curtin Gallery at Australia’s Curtin University – in partnership with Indigenous Elders – has been the custodian of The Herbert Mayer Collection of Carrolup Children’s Art, which provide an insight into the lives and experiences of the children who are now known as Australia’s Stolen Generations.
The process of reconnecting Carrolup artworks with families is at the heart of Curtin University’s Carrolup Centre for Truth-telling, an ambitious project to create a permanent home for the collection in Australia and provide an opportunity for others to learn about this tragic period in Australian history.
Anyone across the UK who thinks they may have found one of the Carrolup children’s artworks can contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Presented by the John Curtin Gallery as part of the UK/Australia Season 2021-22, with guidance from Goreng Elder of the Nyungar Nation Mr Ezzard Flowers, ‘Tracing the art of a Stolen Generation: the child artists of Carrolup’ is curated by Australian First Nations Art Curator Michelle Broun and Adjunct Curator Dr Helen Idle.
Following the exhibition at The Portico Library in Manchester, which runs from July 7 to September 26, it will travel to the University of Glasgow Memorial Chapel and be on display from October 5 to November 11, 2022.
For more information about the children’s artworks and the Carrolup Centre for Truth-telling, visit here.