Mrs Florence Rutter Makes a Promise

Down to Drink by Parnell Dempster, pastel on paper, 58.6 x 76.4cm, 1949. The Herbert Mayer Collection of Carrolup Artwork, John Curtin Gallery, Curtin University.

In yesterday’s blog post, I described the first two days of the visit of Florence Rutter and Vera Hack to Carrolup Native Settlement. Mrs Rutter’s words show clearly how highly she thought of the boys of Carrolup!

‘During the three days we spent at Carrolup we were able to watch the boys both at work and play. Speaking for myself I must relate how delighted and surprised I was with their behaviour. In everyway they were exemplary – attentive, interested, appreciative, grateful, polite, unselfish, sporting and physically courageous. I hope that my own grandchildren will develop these traits as definitely as these little aboriginal boys….’ 

‘… During the afternoon when they were drawing and painting with their crayons and paints, I noticed the boys sharing any colours with each other. These aboriginal children have the real spirit of community life – they are non-possessive and quite definitely non-acquisitive! The older boys appeared to take a pleasure in showing the younger how to do things. They are extremely intelligent and have remarkably retentive memories. Hence they learn rapidly and retain what they are taught.’ Florence Rutter, Little Black Fingers, 1950, pp. 5-6 [Emphasis in original]

On the other hand, Florence  and Vera were appalled with the living conditions in the dormitories at Carrolup:

‘… we saw the unpleasant conditions under which they lived. A large cement-floored dormitory with no floor covering of any kind; black iron bedsteads with a mattress and dark brown blanket – no pillow, sheets or quilts; no furniture of any kind. Three washbasins and one bath for 20 or more boys looked quite unused…. We saw no evidence at all in the dormitory of any night clothes for the boys or any change of clothing at all!’  Florence Rutter, Little Black Fingers, 1950, pp. 4-5

Mrs Florence Rutter. Noel & Lily White Collection.

Florence emphasised that these conditions were not due to the Whites. In fact, she had very positive thoughts about teachers Noel and Lily White:

‘Mr and Mrs White have brought a feeling of security to these children, and have given them a sound education during the 3.5 years they have been there. Mrs. White did what she could for the children’s welfare, but as teachers under the Education Authorities, they have no jurisdiction over the physical state of the children, that being entirely the responsibility of the superintendent and his wife who are in the employment of the Government under the Commissioner for Native Affairs.

Great credit is due to this really noble couple who, at much personal sacrifice of the common amenities of life, have remained at Carrolup, loved their pupils, and by their kind treatment of them, have brought out their wonderful gift of drawing and colouring. The standard of their school work as evidenced in the school books, compares favourably with children of the same age who have had much longer schooling.’ Florence Rutter, Little Black Fingers, 1950, p. 5

Mrs Rutter and Mrs Hack went shopping in Katanning during the morning of 2nd February. They exchanged gifts with the Whites when they reached Carrolup and Mrs Hack took some last photographs. These included a photograph of the two oldest Aboriginals on the Settlement, both around 70 years of age, who had politely requested their picture be taken. One had been a champion runner in Albany in 1905.

Mr White and Mr Ingram with the Carrolup boys. Photographer: Vera Hack, January 1950. Noel & Lily White Collection.

Mr White (left) and Mr Ingram with the Carrolup boys. Photographer: Vera Hack, 1st February 1950. Noel & Lily White Collection.

Prior to her and Mrs Hack’s departure at 1.30 pm, Mrs Rutter promised the boys to do all in her power to make their work known throughout the world. The boys cheered her lustily.

Today, is 73 years since Mrs Florence Rutter made her promise to the boys of Carrolup. She exhibited the children’s artworks in the Netherlands, England and Scotland to great public acclaim during 1950-52. Royal houses in the UK and the Netherlands were enchanted by the beauty of the art.

You can see photos of Carrolup drawings in the Art section of our Gallery, as well as on the Colgate University Flikr pages. This link takes you to a photograph of the first of the collection, Contentment by Revel Cooper, and the rest can be accessed by continuing to click the right arrow.

Mrs Rutter’s collection ended up in the United States and then major pieces returned to Noongar Boodja in 2006 for the 2006 ‘Koorah Coolingah’ exhibition at Katanning, and then returned permanently to Curtin University, Perth, in May 2013. You can read more about the collection in John Stanton’s blog The ‘Lost’ Florence Rutter Carrolup Collection.

Mrs Rutter with two of the trackers at Carrolup during her second visit. Photographer: Vera Hack, January 1950. Noel & Lily White Collection.

Mrs Rutter with two of the trackers at Carrolup during her second visit. Photographer: Vera Hack, 2nd February 1950. Noel & Lily White Collection.

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