Thinking About the Carrolup Boys: Noel White

Parnell Dempster's Down to Drink adorns a wall at the 45th Annual Exhibition of the Pastel Society in London, 1951. Mrs Rutter proudly discusses the drawing with Mr and Mrs Richter. Mary Durack Miller Collection, J. S. Battye Library of West Australian History, 1951.

In my last blog posting, I talked briefly about how teacher Noel White helped the children of Carrolup overcome their fear and inspired them to create beautiful landscape drawings that gained public acclaim in South West Australia. During 1949 and 1950, 71-year old Englishwoman exhibited the art in eight cities around Australia and New Zealand, and later in Holland and the U.K. The artworks were acclaimed by the public and by the media.

The government closed the school at the end of 1950 and the Carrolup boy artists had to make their own way in a society that considered them inferior. Mrs Rutter continued exhibiting the artworks in the U.K. through 1951/2.

Here is part of a letter, written to Mrs. Rutter sometime in 1951 (probably) or 1952, in which Noel White refers to the boys and their art. I found this quote in the book I referred to in my last blog posting, Child Artists of the Australian Bush, which was written by Mary Durack Miller in association with Florence Rutter and published in June 1952. [I have broken up some of the original paragraphs to make it easier to read online.]

‘That the education of the boys with whom I was associated has come to an abrupt end is to me a matter of deep personal concern and regret, but as to the advisability of keeping a school open at Carrolup under the old conditions – that is a Departmental affair. For a while there seems there was some vision of what might be achieved by our boys but somewhere, along the road, it became lost.

My wife and I can only hope that the results of our experience will not be wasted and that your efforts in furthering the publicity of our pupil’s work may result in a better understanding of these unfortunate people and their problems.

Although scattered far and wide the bright, eager faces of our boys smile at us from photographs taken during our happy days at Carrolup. We wonder constantly how they are faring in a not always sympathetic and understanding world and whether any will continue with their art-work on their own initiative. Our good wishes and affection follow them wherever they may be.

Although there seems no avenue through which we may again have charge of a group of native children, we continue in the employ of the Educational Department teaching white girls and boys. All teaching is interesting, and it is possible that the results of our work with the children of Carrolup will be more far reaching than we know.

I find that my experience at Carrolup has helped me in my approach towards the artistic development of other children. I have shown my present pupils the Carrolup work, and, using the same methods of motivating them and quickening their observation of nature, now find they are producing art-work well above average standard.

Visitors sometimes declare their work is “Carrolup all over again,” and it is true that there is something of Carrolup in their work, but those of us who know realise that it is only a shadow of that brilliant, spontaneous creation that came from only heaven knows where. Perhaps, however, one or two of these children, may some day succeed as artists whereas those boys of greater talent, lacking other necessary factors, could not.’ The Aboriginal Child Artists of Carrolup, M.D. Miller & F. Rutter, Australasian Publishing Co. Pty. Ltd & George G. Harrap & Co. Ltd, U.K, pp. 74 – 75.

Noel and Lily White loved the children of Carrolup and were devastated when the school was closed down. Noel was transferred to Chittering School, located about 70 kms north of Perth.

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