Carrolup and Florence Rutter, Part 2

Mrs Florence Rutter arranging her collection of Carrolup drawings and designs with Miss Fisher in Launceston, Tasmania. Photograph from The Examiner, Launceston.

In my last blog, I described Mrs Florence Rutter’s first visit to Carrolup in July 1949. Whilst there, Mrs Rutter bought £5 worth of Carrolup drawings and designs.

When she returned to Perth, Mrs Rutter had the drawings mounted on cardboard and covered with cellophane for protection. She met with the Minister of Native Affairs, Ross McDonald, who agreed that she would market the children’s drawings and designs during her forthcoming travels around Australia and New Zealand. During this tour, Mrs Rutter would be visiting and setting up new Soroptomist clubs—the female equivalent of Rotary clubs—in various cities during her five month tour.

Here is a description of the early part of this tour taken from my forthcoming book Aboriginal Child Artists of Carrolup, which I aim to self-publish in April.

“After travelling to Melbourne in August 1949, where she meets Mary Durack Miller’s sister Elizabeth, Mrs Rutter journeys to the state of Tasmania. She launches Soroptimist clubs in Hobart and Launceston, whilst also publicising the Carrolup children’s artworks wherever she goes. She is interviewed on the 7HO radio station.

The first opportunity to show the artworks publicly comes when one Soroptimist member, Miss Fisher, offers to lend her bookshop for exhibiting the children’s art for two weeks. She offers to be the agent for Tasmania, sell the artworks to make money for the children, and write to Noel White. Mrs Rutter takes her collection to Miss Fisher’s shop on the 22nd of September and is photographed arranging the display. Articles appear in The Examiner and Mercury newspapers the next day. 

Mrs Rutter sends copies of the articles to Mr White and the Minister for Native Affairs in Western Australia. Most people who see the display marvel at the beauty of the artworks and give donations. Florence describes other reactions in her Personal Diary entry of the 24th of September:

Went round to Miss Fisher’s to help for an hour, talking to people about the pictures. She introduced me to a Doctor of Science who was most sceptical about everything to do with Aboriginals, and declared he didn’t believe these children were untaught!! Said these were not Aboriginal ideas about nature!

A most illogical man, obviously prejudiced against them and without belief that anything beautiful would come from their ideas. It was useless telling him that the walls of their class  room were covered with similar pictures. He liked the “designs” and colours, but the “landscapes” were not natural to Aborigines!! I could have been very rude to him with pleasure. Such blind prejudice is infuriating. Seemed to be bent on decrying Aborigines, even little children. 

Many people are getting much pleasure from seeing them, but one despairs at times of what can be done in face of cultured (?) people showing such prejudice and dislike. Probably shame colours their ideas! There is need of shame at the treatment Aborigines have received.’ 

Mrs Rutter devotes considerable time to helping Miss Fisher with the display and the pair are delighted when they can send to Carrolup a first order for 36 pictures and designs, for which they quote a figure of  £22.10.0d (equivalent to $1,250 in today’s money).

When the donation box is almost full (it totals £6.05.06d), Miss Fisher tells Mrs Rutter that she better take the money back to Perth to purchase materials for the children.  The latter is thrilled at the thought of the pleasure that new paints and crayons will bring the children.” ©Aboriginal Child Artists of Carrolup by David Clark, in association with John Stanton

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