Our Journey: Cliff Ryder’s Family, Part 1

Four Carrolup boys (From Left: Thomas Jackamarra, Cliff Ryder, unidentified and Simpson Kelly) with their pastel drawing books. Photographer: Vera Hack, 1st February 1950. Noel & Lily White Collection.

Some of you will know that John and I have developed a strong relationship with the children of the Carrolup child artist Cliff Ryder. In September 2019, we spent a lovely day with the family at the Moore River Settlement and Goomalling, finishing with an emotional gathering at the grave of Cliff and his son Christopher.

Since then, we have filmed an interview with Charon Ryder, parts of which will be shown in the future. Charon and her husband John Kalin attended my talk at the Royal Western Australian Historical Society, and Charon talked to the audience about her father and her family’s experiences.

Below, is the first part of a chapter I wrote for my book Connection: Aboriginal Child Artists Captivate Europe, which is based in large part on Charon’s interview. Parts two and three will appear on Wednesday and Thursday.

Lunch after David’s talk at The Royal Historical Society of Western Australia on Friday, 11th September 2020. From left: Michael Scott, Charon Ryder, John Kalin, John Stanton and Linda Candy. Photograph: David Clark.

‘My name is Charon Ryder. I’m a Noongar Yorga (woman) from the Ballardong people. I also have connections to the Yuet culture. I was born and raised in Goomalling, a small town located 130 kms north-east of Perth. I became involved with this Carrolup project through my late father, Cliff Ryder. For the first half of my life, I did not know that my father had been at Carrolup and that he was one of the Carrolup child artists. 

My father is one of the Stolen Generations, taken away from his family as a child by the authorities. He was taken away through no fault of his parents or grandparents, but just because of a government policy. Dad also passed away at an early age. He was not quite 31 years old. I was eight years old at the time, my brother George six, my sister Kerry four and my sister Judy two years old. 

Dad was a truck driver, something he had wanted to be since he was a kid. When he got sick in his 30s, he didn’t let my Mum, Iris Ryder (née Walley), know. He was visiting the doctor unbeknownst to her. I think he didn’t want to worry her because she was pregnant at the time carrying my brother Aaron. One day, my Mum got a message from the police in Goomalling saying that her husband was very sick in Sir Charles Gairdner Hospital. As we did not have transport at the time, the police took my Mum to the hospital. 

My siblings and I visited my Dad on a number of occasions, but we were too young to appreciate why we had to visit him at the hospital. The last time we saw him he was standing up at the window waving us goodbye. When Dad passed, he left behind so many untold stories which I’m sure he would have told as we got older. He went to his grave knowing that he would never be able to talk to us about his life, nor talk to his grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

I can’t imagine what my Mum had to go through at the time, picking up the pieces, looking after four children and being fully pregnant. She gave birth to Aaron just two weeks after my Dad passed away. She then had to carry on not just as a mum, but also take up the role of being a Dad for five children. Looking after us and putting us through school. She was amazing! Sometimes, we do not give enough credit to our parents for what they do.

I lost my Mum in 2015. I carry a lot of pain and hurt, but I have a strong culture and a strong spiritual background to help me get through every day. I’m on this journey now, to find out what happened to my Dad when he was a child. I believe that my siblings, and our children and grandchildren, also need to know. I’m not just taking this journey on my own. I have the help of my brothers and sisters, who are just as keen as me to know more. 

Golden sunset by Cliff Ryder, pastel on paper, 18 x 25cm, 1950. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program by Melvie, Stan and Gael Phillips, Berndt Museum of Anthropology, The University of Western Australia [1992/0126].

I found out about my Dad being at Carrolup Native Settlement when my brother was working at Carrolup, or Marribank Mission as it was known then, in the early 1990s. My sister-in-law Anne had seen some of the artworks in the Cultural Centre down there and she said to my brother, ‘Do you know Cliff Ryder, what is he to you?’ George told Anne that Cliff was his father. They both walked down to the room where the drawing was being held. George was overwhelmed when he saw our father’s artwork. He was devastated that it was sitting in a settlement unknown to anybody at that time. He came and told the family. My Mum knew nothing about her husband Cliff being at Carrolup.

We want to know what happened. Why was the artwork there and why was Dad taken to the Carrolup Native Settlement? We want answers. It’s painful for us, because we need to tell our children and our grandchildren. This is part of our history and it is of cultural significance to us. We need to know what happened to our Father as a child. 

Stories such as this need to be told as we, as Aboriginal people, suffer a lot. We hurt and sometimes we don’t know how to find out the information we need. I’ve been very fortunate to meet two wonderful people, John Stanton and David Clark, who have helped me on my journey.

Before talking more about our relationship with John and David, I would like to share a little about my family. My brother George is a very talented artist. He creates wonderful landscape artworks. My sister Kerry’s granddaughter Teleasha is a talented artist, focusing on facial images. Each of my four Kalin children, Cliff, Keryn, Beau and Skye draw as well. My granddaughter Olivia Kalin has had art exhibitions in Midland and at school. I believe that the artistic skills in our family are hereditary. They come from my dear beloved Dad, Cliff Ryder. I think our children and grandchildren are very lucky to have been gifted with this artistic talent and with the spiritual and cultural connections they possess.

Our children are also very lucky not to have been taken away, as my father was taken. For him to have gone through that, I can’t even imagine what it was like. What I do know is that today we feel a lot of pain about what happened, and even an anger. Our children also feel these emotions as well. There’s so much anger in society today which we, as parents, now have to deal with, just like our parents, grandparents and other ancestors had to go through because of the Stolen Generations. It’s really sad to know that those things happened back then.’ Connection: Aboriginal Child Artists Captivate Europe. David Clark, in association with John Stanton. Copyright © 2020 by David Clark

George Ryder holding one of his artworks at Moore River Native Settlement (later Mogumber Mission) on 14th September 2014. Photograph: John Stanton.

Translate »