Connection

The creek by Simpson Kelly, pastel on paper, 18.5 x 24 cm, c.1948. Noel & Lily White Collection, Berndt Museum of Anthropology. [WU7563]

The creek by Simpson Kelly, pastel on paper, 18.5 x 24 cm, c.1949. Noel & Lily White Collection, Berndt Museum of Anthropology, The University of Western Australia [1993/0016].

When teacher Noel White arrives at Carrolup in May 1946, he is unable to communicate with the Aboriginal children. They sit sullenly and silently at their schoolroom desks.

‘The first week at school with our new teacher we were all scared stiff. I think if it wasn’t for the ever present smile of Mr Whites we would have all stormed out of the school and ran for our lives.’ Revel Cooper, 1960

‘Mr Whites’ eventually connects with the children, through an education and personal development programme he develops with the help of school inspector Charles ‘Sammy’ Crabbe. The programme involves drawing, singing, dancing, drama and story-telling, as well as Mr White’s natural empathy and inspiration.

Mr White takes the children on regular bush rambles, encouraging them to ‘truly observe’ what they see and draw it in the classroom the next day. He has never drawn or painted.

The children still live in squalor, since Noel White is told that he must only involve himself in education. The Department of Native Affairs is in charge of the children’s living conditions. However, Noel’s wife Lily obtains some cotton bolts and teaches some of the girls to make new clothes for all the children. She also takes over the kitchen for a while; the quality of the food improves markedly.

The children lose their fear and gain confidence, and their schoolwork improves dramatically. The boys’ drawings, initially done in crayon or chalk, keep improving. Noel and Lily, who has now become a teacher at the school, do not fully appreciate how far the children have developed their skills, until Sammy Crabbe points out that the drawings have become ‘something quite remarkable’.

Pertinent blog posts:

Charles ‘Sammy’ Crabbe, Part 1: School Inspector Sammy Crabbe and teacher Noel White developed a new education programme to facilitate connection and communication with the traumatised Aboriginal children of Carrolup.

‘Drawing as the Necessary Means of Communication’: Drawing was used as a preliminary basis for all language and vocabulary work, in all the school subjects; it helped facilitate communication with the children.’

Development of the Carrolup Children’s Art: The art now takes on a life of its own. The children seem to develop as a group, through a process of mutual interest, discussion, criticism and support.

A Pivotal Role: Noel White: ‘… 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 that opportunity to improve our work…’ Barry Loo, Carrolup artist

Out To Prove: ‘… he [Noel White] is out to prove to the Education Department that the native mind and capabilities are equal to, if not better than, those of the white children.’ Bill Gordon, Native Affairs District Inspector

The Pastel Drawing Books: Government-issued pastel drawing books, the same as were provided to schools throughout Western Australia, were sent to Carrolup, along with an assortment of pastel crayons.

 

 

 

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