Koorah Coolingah-Children Long Ago: Art from the Stolen Generation of Australia

By Wexler, Alice | Studies in Art Education, Winter 2009 | Go to article overview
Save to active project

Koorah Coolingah-Children Long Ago: Art from the Stolen Generation of Australia


Wexler, Alice, Studies in Art Education


Recently, artwork of child artists from the Carrolup settlement school in Western Australia was rediscovered in the archives of the Picker Art Gallery at Colgate University. The young artists were among what was then called the half-caste children and now known as the Stolen Generation. Between the late 1800s and mid 1970s the Australian government forcibly removed children from their families with the purpose of not only assimilating them into European culture, but also eliminating Aboriginal culture. With the support of a dedicated new headmaster and teacher Noel White (1946-1951), a group of male children became proficient artists. Through the efforts of Florence Rutter, who later co-authored the book Child Artists of the Australian Bush (Miller & Rutter, 1952), the children became internationally known. Tragically leading short and sometimes violent lives, most of the children went on to menial jobs. Their style, however, has remained an enduring influence on the local artists of southwestern Australia.

"It was a little brief spark that lit for them . . . glowed for awhile and then died out. "

- Patsy Millet

In 2005, A New York Times article announced a remarkable "rediscovery"1 of children's artwork at the Picker Art Gallery located at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York. Ninety-one drawings, several with work on both sides to total 113, were found in a box that was stored for almost 50 years and simply identified as "Aboriginal Art?" with a question mark. Colgate's guest lecturer, Howard Morphy, Director of the Centre for Cross-Cultural Research at The Australian National University, described the encounter, "I took the lid off this box and I saw the drawing, a beautiful pastel drawing, and I immediately thought: Carrolup. I just leapt for joy" (O'Keefe, 2005). Morphy and his colleagues had been searching for this collection for 20 years with no result, and its rediscovery brings to light a story that will not be silenced. The young Aboriginal artists made sure that it would not, for in their drawings they document the loss of land, speech, and culture owned by a people for 40,000 years. The conditions under which such arresting work was made - and the international response to them - bring new questions about the power of cultural forms of representation. Making art not only helped the Carrolup artists to survive the death of their culture, but they also unwittingly become the cause of its current rebirth. They, like other Aboriginal artists, put the supposedly uninscribed territory on the world map, which thus makes them visible and understandable within our own epistemological frameworks (Grossman, 2006). Because of the overwhelming lack of agency in determining their own future, Aboriginal selfconsciousness and self-representation are considered inherently political acts of resistance (Moreton-Robinson, 2003). They may not necessarily be explicit or intentional, as indeed the children's works are not.

This article describes the enduring battle Aborigines face in attempts to create "meaning, knowledges and living traditions" (Moreton-Robinson, 2003, p. 128) under conditions not of their choosing. The battle is described through the story of a group of male children of the Stolen Generation2 from the Carrolup Native Settlement near Katanning in the southwest of Western Australia. Carrolup was one of 60 government settlements and missions operating between the late 1800s and mid 1970s that forcibly segregated young children, not only from the white social structure, but also from their own families, while purporting to offer them greater opportunities in that same society. Under these compelling conditions, the children made artworks that continue to mystify. It is this unusual art and the unusual circumstances of cultural genocide in 20th-century Australia that are inextricably connected in this story.

Colgate's Collection of the Carrolup Artists

Colgate Alum Herbert Mayer gifted the collection to the Picker Art Gallery in 1966.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
Loading One moment ...
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited article

Koorah Coolingah-Children Long Ago: Art from the Stolen Generation of Australia
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

While we understand printed pages are helpful to our users, this limitation is necessary to help protect our publishers' copyrighted material and prevent its unlawful distribution. We are sorry for any inconvenience.
Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.

Are you sure you want to delete this highlight?