My book Connection: Aboriginal Child Artists Captivate Europe, written in association with John Stanton, is available today as a downloadable eBook from Amazon, Apple and Kobo.
It’s been six years since I first saw a piece of art from one of the Carrolup artists. And four years since I first visited Battye Library with Michael Liu and Cathy Coomer, a niece of Revel Cooper, to explore Mart Durack Miller’s collection of material related to the Carrolup Child Artists. The three of us realised we had come across an amazing story. Here’s a section of the book’s Preface:
“We learnt how teacher Noel White had arrived at Carrolup in May 1946 to find Aboriginal children living in squalor. Noel couldn’t initially communicate with the children because they were so fearful. He eventually connected with the children through a unique education programme and inspired them to create beautiful landscape drawings that gained public recognition.
Mary Durack Miller’s papers also provided a wealth of information about the 71-year-old Englishwoman Mrs Florence Rutter, who visited Carrolup and was so impressed by the children and their drawings that she bought a collection that she would later exhibit and sell in Australasia and Europe. The drawings soon gained international acclaim. Mary and Florence became firm friends and wrote to each other from opposite sides of the world, providing Mike and I with further insights into the story of Carrolup.
Seventy years after Noel White and his family arrived at Carrolup, Mike Liu and I visited Noel’s eldest daughter Noelene at her home in Perth. Noelene, who was 12-years old when she arrived at Carrolup, still had clear memories of her time on the settlement, including playing with the Aboriginal children. She showed us her family’s memorabilia relating to their time at Carrolup (and before and after) and brought the story of Carrolup alive for us. Mike filmed Noelene and I talking about the events of all those years ago.
I remember vividly one particularly poignant moment when Noelene said, ‘And my dad thought, and mum thought, that it [the story] was gone and lost forever.’
I replied, ‘But it’s not now.’
Noelene broke down and cried. I knew then that I had to write the story of the Aboriginal child artists of Carrolup. And Noelene of course encouraged me to do so.
Soon after, Mike and I took Cathy over to meet Noelene and they quickly started to talk away like old friends. It was a deeply moving experience watching Cathy look through Noelene’s photographs of Carrolup and other memorabilia. Cathy then started pressing me to write the book.
I pored over Noelene’s family’s treasures, as well as a variety of items that Mike and I had found at the Battye Library in Perth and other places. Mary Durack Miller’s files had revealed the name of Doreen Trainor, who we soon discovered (thanks, indirectly, to Google) also had a connection to Revel Cooper. Doreen had lodged a collection of papers at the Battye Library, so we were soon back talking to the helpful and friendly staff there. We learnt that Revel Cooper had been a prolific letter writer, and a large collection of his letters to Mrs Trainor were available amongst her files.
One of our most important finds was a description of life at Carrolup written by Revel. He described how Noel White gained the fearful children’s ‘confidence and respect’, helped things improve at Carrolup, and facilitated the development of the children’s drawings.” CONNECTION: Aboriginal Child Artists Captivate Europe. David Clark, in association with John Stanton. Copyright © 2020 by David Clark
I later met John Stanton, former Director of the Berndt Museum of Anthropology at The University of Western Australia, who has been on a Carrolup journey of over 40 years. We became great friends and, along with Ash Whitney from South Wales (UK), built this website and created a good deal of content.
In fact, I have also been on a 40+ year journey, working in the mental health and addiction fields, and more recently in the field of trauma and the healing of trauma. I have written a great deal about these areas, including numbers of Recovery Stories. For some time, I have been looking for an enthralling story about the healing of trauma… and I found it literally in my own backyard! The story of the Aboriginal child artists of Carrolup.
I wrote this blog early morning and posted it in the evening. It’s been a long day sending out emails about the book. Thank you Mike Scott for our a celebratory lunch today and all those people who have helped me on my journey over the years. And Happy 16th Birthday to my beautiful daughter Natasha.
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