Some of you will know one of the main reasons I became involved with the Carrolup story was because of my interest in the healing of trauma and its consequences (e.g. mental health problems, addiction). I was looking for a story about the healing of trauma amongst Aboriginal people… and stumbled across one almost in my ‘backyard’.
It is quite clear to me that a process of healing occurred at Carrolup Native Settlement and this process facilitated the development of the art, which in turn then helped the continuing healing process. Noel White in particular, and other people such as School Inspector Sammy Crabbe, facilitated the children’s healing process. Moreover, the children themselves helped each other heal from their past traumas. Here is what I wrote in my eBook Connection: Aboriginal Child Artists Captivate Europe about the healing process.
‘Noel White was a man ahead of his time in facilitating the healing of trauma amongst the Aboriginal children of Carrolup. While Noel would not have said to himself that, ‘these children are traumatised and I need to use these techniques to help them get better’, he would have soon recognised that the children had problems, and over time he would have realised that the environment of the settlement was not conducive to helping the children overcome these problems. He worked in a variety of ways that helped the children help themselves and help each other.
Noel was a compassionate and empathic man. He could see the world through the children’s eyes. He had been placed in a brutal school environment as a child in India and abhorred violence, which is possibly why he spent years working in small one-roomed schools in the countryside. There, he could ensure that there was no violence towards children in ‘his’ school. Ironically, he had now moved to a school where violence towards children occurred in the immediate environment. The children were also isolated from wider society.
Noel was fortunate in having Sammy Crabbe as the School Inspector. These friends decided that the best initial way forward for the children was to dispense with a formal school timetable for a period of time and focus on arts and activities related to the Aboriginal corroboree, an important aspect of Aboriginal culture and life. Singing and chanting, dancing, storytelling, drawing, dramatisation and miming, and group speech work were used to engage the children and help enhance their confidence. The importance of cleanliness, hygiene, good manners and punctuality was stressed to the children.
The range of activities instigated by Noel White helped break down barriers between the teacher and his pupils. The fact that many of the activities involved pupils working together as a group facilitated social engagement and broke down barriers between the children themselves. It is notable that the children were happy to sing in a group—enthusiastically so—but not alone. The strategy of using drawing as a means of facilitating communication was a sound one. Mr White’s ability to enthuse and provide positive feedback about the children’s early drawings and schoolwork will have increased his pupils’ sense of attainment, their confidence and their feelings of pride.
The same can be said about improvements in the children’s hygiene and cleanliness. One can imagine how positively the children must have felt after they received their two sets of new clothes from Lily White in 1946, clothes that had been made by the older girls of Carrolup. These older girls must also have experienced considerable pride in their achievements, as well as their new attire.
Noel White took the children on regular rambles in the bush and encouraged them to draw what they had seen when they returned to the classroom. These rambles and drawing sessions revealed the amazing memories possessed by the children. Gradually, the artistry of the drawings improved, in part due to Noel White’s encouragement, praise and criticism. He challenged the children to look more closely at what they had seen. The children started to critique and praise each other’s drawings. The children’s schoolwork improved as well.
The bush rambles helped the children connect with their country. In addition, Noel encouraged the children to talk to the Aboriginal adults living on the other side of the river. He wanted them to feel pride in their origins and their ancestors. The children were connecting to their culture, as evidenced in their drawings of the corroborees that took place at Carrolup from time to time. The building of pride was an important aim of Noel’s education and personal development programme.
One can see how the different elements essential to healing, described in the previous section of this chapter, were coming into play at the school in Carrolup. The children were becoming empowered—they were gaining a sense of autonomy. They were becoming increasingly connected—to the Whites, to each other, to themselves, and to their country and culture. They were (re)gaining some of the faculties that are commonly damaged by trauma—the basic operations of trust, autonomy, initiative, competence, identity, and intimacy. They were beginning to feel a sense of power and control, and a feeling of safety or security.
Edie Smith, one of the survivors from Noel White’s time at Carrolup, told me that the school became the one place on the Native Settlement where the children felt safe. Edie said that this feeling arose because of Noel and Lily White. Parnell Dempster told John Stanton that the school became a sanctuary for the children.
Reciprocity and love were developing between the children and the Whites. Noelene White told me how she often saw her father heading to the school with a child holding onto each of his hands. The children were gaining a sense of belonging, not just to the school, but to their country and culture. A healing community had formed. It is important to emphasise that the children were now helping each other. It was not all about the Whites facilitating healing—the children were helping each other heal. A healthy community was buffering the pain, distress and loss caused by the children’s earlier trauma. Things had come a long way from the first stage of connection between Noel White and the children of Carrolup:
‘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.’ Connection: Aboriginal Child Artists Captivate Europe. David Clark, in association with John Stanton. Copyright © 2020 by David Clark