Silencing the Doubters

A Carrolup drawing, by Reynold Hart or Parnell Dempster, that was exhibited at the Convention of Departmental Teachers in Albany in June 1948.

In June 1948, three of the Carrolup boys caused a sensation in the south coast town of Albany. Here is what happened, as described in our forthcoming book The Aboriginal Child Artists of Carrolup.

“Education Inspector Charles ‘Sammy’ Crabbe organises a Convention of Departmental Teachers in Albany in June at which 100 teachers from the Lower Great Southern attend. 

A number of teachers give demonstrations on various topics, including Mr White who talks about art and exhibits some of the boys’ drawings. He is nonplussed to hear from his audience that the work is ‘too good to be true’ and that it is asking too much of the public to accept this as unassisted children’s art. Noel’s protests are to no avail, at which time Sammy Crabbe suggests that he return to Carrolup and fetch some of the boys so that they can provide a personal demonstration of their skills. 

Noel returns with Parnell Dempster, Reynold Hart and Barry Loo, who enter the hall the next day to meet their audience. Tables, paper and drawing materials are provided and a sceptical audience gather around.

In an article entitled Young Native Boys Show Keen Artistic Sense: Speed and Imagination Astonish Onlookers, a reporter for the Albany Advertiser describes how the three boys create pictures that win the admiration of their audience of teachers. Soon after, the general public are afforded the opportunity to watch the boys at work. The reporter goes on to say:

‘Their pictures reveal keen appreciation of light and colour values, and it is fascinating to watch them building up their subjects. They work with complete confidence and certainty of touch, and without erasures. Their approach to the subject of their drawing seems at first sight to be rather bewildering. For instance, one of the boys took his sheet of paper and sketched in a few lines. Then he began to rub with a grey crayon until almost the whole of the paper was coloured grey, shading from light to dark. Then he drew in a group of trees, tracing the outlines of the trunks deftly, and adding the leaves. A little more shading, and a few light strokes with a black crayon, and in less than 30 minutes he had completed a lovely little study of a bush pool.

Another of the boys works on even more unorthodox lines, and when he draws a tree, he actually draws the foliage first, yet there is no fumbling about it. When he finishes, there is a tree, beautifully proportioned and natural in its outlines. These boys have “seeing eyes.” Their memories are full of the lore of the bush, and their fingers simply transfer to paper the pictures of the bushland that they have stored in their minds.’ Albany Advertiser, 21st June 1948

There is some friendly argument between Mr Crabbe and Mr White as to who is actually responsible for discovering this hitherto unsuspected reservoir of artistic talent.’ Mr White gives the credit to Mr Crabbe, who in turn gives credit to the boys’ teacher. The author of the article believes that both men deserve credit. Mr White also states that about 80% of the children at Carrolup have shown this ‘competence in artistic expression.’ 

The exhibited drawings are offered for sale at a flat rate of five shillings. All 96 soon sell, raising £24 (worth $1,450 today) for the school. 

‘Great benefit was derived from the School of Instruction held at Albany. The exhibition of drawings through the enthusiasm of Mr Crabbe brought a sale of £24. This was spent on library books etc.’ School Journal, 25th June 1948″

© The Aboriginal Child Artists of Carrolup by David Clark and John Stanton, to be published later in 2019.

Translate »