Development of the Carrolup Children’s Art

Imagined corroboree by Reynold Hart, watercolour and ink on paper, 25 x 30cm, c.1948. Stan, Melvie and Gael Phillips Collection, 1947 - 65, Berndt Museum of Anthropology. [WU7255]

Imagined corroboree by Reynold Hart, watercolour and ink on paper, 25 x 30cm, c.1948. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Melvie, Stan and Gael Phillips, Berndt Museum of Anthropology, The University of Western Australia [1992/0070].

In a previous blog, I described how the children’s art was initially just one aspect of a school curriculum that used drawing as the necessary means of communication in almost every subject. Early in 1947, Noel introduced a scheme where he and his wife spent time with the children five evenings a week in the schoolroom. Lighting came from his hurricane lamp. This evening scheme was greatly appreciated by the children.

Here is what happened next as describe in my book Connection: Aboriginal Child Artists Captivate Europe.

“The scheme allowing the children to spend time in the schoolroom in the evenings is working well. On the 18th of April 1947, Noel White writes in the School Journal:

‘Owing to the interest taken by pupils during school hours, many of them have come to me expressing a wish to work after school in the arts subjects. This I have encouraged with remarkable results.’

This is followed on the 6th of June by:

Attention is being given to the art side of the Lower School. Tree forms, abstracts and corroboree are given full attention. It is interesting to see the development of art through out the school.’ 

The boys’ drawings improve over time, and individual styles and preoccupations emerge. The better pupils, about six of the older boys, are now using large sheets of brown, grey or white paper, Mr White having observed that a large sheet encourages expression. The boys are depicting sunset and moonlight scenes, and showing a liking for drawing dead or ‘skeleton’ trees. They are introducing more birds and animals into their scenes, and the use of movement is growing. They are drawing scenes of Aboriginal men hunting and participating in corroborees, which the boys have witnessed [1]. 

Mr Crabbe realises that something very important is happening in Carrolup. During one inspection visit, he says to Noel White: 

There’s something quite new and remarkable coming out here. Leave their style alone. Just go on encouraging their interest and observation.’ M D Miller and F Rutter, Child Artists of the Australian Bush, 1952, p. 43

The Whites had not fully realised the quality of the art they are seeing until Sammy Crabbe’s comment and the amazed interest of educational authorities. Up until now, they have used the art to facilitate interest and understanding, and to help create a keen sense of observation amongst the children. Whilst it has been part of an overall programme of education and personal development to date, the art is now taking on a life of its own. 

The children seem to develop as a group, through a process of mutual interest, discussion, criticism and support. Whilst they are drawing, the children often keep their pictures hidden from each other. They are very competitive. 

However, once they complete their piece of work, they compare and discuss the drawing with their fellow artists. Comparisons are made as to how a particular object has been drawn by each of the artists, and animated discussions about perspective, movement and light occur. The boys become prolific and large numbers of drawing soon cover the school’s walls [2]….

[1] In the early 1970s, it was assumed that the Carrolup boys’ corroboree drawings were imagined. However, Ross White told John Stanton and his wife Ghislaine in 2012 that he and his father Noel had witnessed ceremonial dances in the bush near Carrolup on six or seven occasions. These performances were identical to those depicted in the corroboree drawings. John Stanton, The Corroboree Artworks, The Carrolup Story, 11th January 2019.

[2] The nature of the interactions between the boys when they were doing their drawings is described by Mary Durack Miller and Florence Rutter in their book.” Connection: Aboriginal Child Artists Captivate Europe. David Clark, in association with John Stanton. Copyright © 2020 by David Clark

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