Facilitating Healing at Carrolup, Part 2

Some of the Carrolup young artists. Front row: Reynold Hart (Far Left), Parnell Dempster (Middle), Ross Jones (2nd Right) and Revel Cooper (Far Right). Back row: Claude Kelly (Far Left) and Barry Loo (2nd Left). Mary Durack Miller Collection, J. S. Battye Library of West Australian History.

I continue my article focused on the process of healing that occurred at Carrolup Native Settlement. These sections are taken from my eBook Connection: Aboriginal Child Artists Captivate Europe.

‘Prior to November 1946, the children had been closeted away on the Settlement. However, they were taken to the Katanning Show in early November, which must have been an extraordinary experience for the children, for the first time interacting with large numbers of white people. Soon after, the children were taken on holiday to Albany. Their world was opening up. They were experiencing new forms of reward.

Sammy Crabbe emphasised that the children’s art developed out of the educational programme at Carrolup. It had started as a means of facilitating communication and now had a life of its own. Sammy was the first person to realise how remarkable the children’s art had become. Native Affairs Inspector Bill Gordon was impressed by the drawings and schoolwork and informed the Commissioner. The Whites introduced evening classes and their connection with the children was going from strength to strength.

John Stokes now played a significant role in the children’s lives. He accepted a number of their pieces of work for the Forrest Centenary Booklet, requested Carrolup drawings for the Forrest Centennial Exhibition, and organised and publicised the Carrolup exhibition at Boans at which four of the boys demonstrated their drawing skills to a live audience. The Katanning Show followed soon after and the Albany teachers’ conference in the middle of the following year, at which three of the boys amazed their audience. It amazes me how these boys adapted to this new world.

Sporting achievements of the Carrolup children soon followed! Positive media coverage increased. Letters of praise were sent to Carrolup, some to the children themselves. Mr White undoubtedly kept the children abreast of all the latest developments and praise. It would have been wonderful to see the children’s faces light up when Noel gave them the latest news.

The children of Carrolup now had a sense of order. They felt valued. They felt good about something. They had an identity and a strong sense of belonging. They had hope of a better future. These are all basic emotional needs of human beings, emotional needs that had never been satisfied for the children of Carrolup since they were taken from their parents. These emotional needs were now being restored to the children and what a difference it was making, not just to the children, but to the world outside Carrolup Native Settlement.

‘Traumatic events destroy the sustaining bonds between individual and community. Those who have survived learn that their sense of self, of worth, of humanity, depends upon a feeling of connection to others. The solidarity of a group provides the strongest protection against terror and despair, and the strongest antidote to traumatic experience.

Trauma isolates; the group re-creates a sense of belonging. Trauma shames and stigmatises; the group bears witness and affirms. Trauma degrades the victim; the group exalts her. Trauma dehumanizes the victim; the group restores her humanity.

Repeatedly in the testimony of survivors there comes a moment when a sense of connection is restored by another person’s unaffected display of generosity. Something in herself that the victim believes to be irretrievably destroyed—faith, decency, courage—is reawakened by an example of common altruism. Mirrored in the actions of others, the survivor recognizes and reclaims a lost part of herself.’ [1] (p. 214)

When Mrs Florence Rutter visited Carrolup the second time she was impressed by the boys’ positive values and their ‘real spirit of community life’ [emphasis in the original]. The boys would have been thrilled to hear how their drawings had been exhibited in a number of cities around Australia and New Zealand and that they were so well-received.

Now their drawings were to be exhibited in Europe. The gratitude that the boys felt towards Mrs Rutter was expressed in the letters they sent to her after she returned home to England. The boys whose art was shown in Europe must have felt a strong sense of achievement and great pride when Noel White showed them the Illustrated London News article and newspaper reports of the exhibition at Over-Seas House. This press coverage would have strengthened their positive identity. As Parnell Dempster said to John Stanton many years later: ‘We were famous, we were the Carrolup artists.’6

As Albert Namatjira’s work was not known in Europe at that time, the Carrolup children were, in fact, the first Aboriginal artists to become known in Europe!

Less than five months later the school was closed and the children were left to face the adversity of living in a white- dominated society that considered them inferior. An opportunity was lost!!’ Connection: Aboriginal Child Artists Captivate Europe. David Clark, in association with John Stanton. Copyright © 2020 by David Clark

The story of Carrolup speaks to today, not just in relation to Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people, but also to the oppressed and their oppressors in various parts of the world. At its heart, our story is about the innate emotional needs of human beings, e.g. to feel a sense of belonging. What happens if these innate needs are not satisfied? And what can happen if satisfaction of these needs is restored?

Below, I provide a list of basic needs that we as humans need satisfying in order to function normally. These needs were not satisfied for the children of Carrolup in the environment created by the Department of Native Affairs prior to the arrival of Noel and Lily White. In the Carrolup school environment, these needs started to be satisfied thanks to Noel White. He was a man ahead of his time in helping children heal from trauma. The Aboriginal children of Carrolup showed what could be achieved in the transformative healing environment created by Noel White.

  • Feeling safe and secure.
  • Feeling a sense of belonging.
  • Being connected to others, to culture and country.
  • Having hope.
  • Feeling empowered, a sense of autonomy and control.
  • Having a sense of competence and achievement. Feeling pride.
  • Having trust and being trusted.
  • Having meaning and purpose.
  • Possessing a strong identity.
  • Feeling loved.
  • Reciprocity: being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone else’s mind and heart.

The Aboriginal children of Carrolup have left a healing legacy with their art and their story, a legacy that will not just impact today, but also on future generations. Trauma has rippled across generations—healing can do the same.

[1] Judith Herman, Trauma and Recovery: The Aftermath of Violence – From Domestic Abuse to Political Terror, Basic Books, 1997, p. 241.

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