Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Koolark Koort Koorliny: Reconciliation, Art and Storytelling in an Australian Aboriginal Community

Academic journal article Australian Aboriginal Studies

Koolark Koort Koorliny: Reconciliation, Art and Storytelling in an Australian Aboriginal Community

Article excerpt

Abstract: In Nyungar Country, in the south-west corner of Western Australia, reconciliation has taken a significant step forward as the whole community experiences the healing effect of the Carrolup artworks--a collection of 122 drawings and paintings created in the late 1940s by Aboriginal children who had been forcibly removed from their families and housed in harsh conditions at the Carrolup Native Settlement in the south-west of Western Australia. The artworks were lost for many years and then discovered and returned to Western Australia in 2013. With a Nyungar language title, koolark koort koorliny, which means 'heart coming home', the collection has commenced a series of tours and exhibitions throughout Nyungar Country. It has become evident that people are eager to engage with the exhibitions and that they provide the means by which the stories of the children, known as the Stolen Generations, can be shared with the wider community. They demonstrate the healing effect of that storytelling and are a source of pride for the Aboriginal community. The paintings celebrate traditional Nyungar culture and a unique Nyungar style of art. This paper discusses the artworks' healing impact on the individuals who have experienced the trauma of removal from their families, and their power to bring black and white communities together in the spirit of reconciliation.

In May 2013 Colgate University in New York placed a collection of 122 Australian Aboriginal children's artworks at Curtin University in Perth. Perth is in Nyungar (1) Country, and the Nyungar people are the traditional custodians and first peoples of the south-west region of Australia, where Perth is located. The story of this collection of art by Nyungar children from the late 1940s is extraordinary in many ways, but the focus of this paper is on the cultural significance of the art collection and the healing impact it is having on the Nyungar community. The child artists were members of Australia's Stolen Generations and represent a dark chapter in the history of Australia's relationship with its Indigenous people. The link between the artworks and the Stolen Generations children who created them is integral to understanding the cultural significance of this collection and its value to the Nyungar community.

The return of the art to country has initiated a series of exhibitions, an oral histories project, the production of a documentary, and an ongoing relationship between the university and the Aboriginal community. The process of sharing the art with the wider community has provided a catalyst for a conversation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians about our shared history. A dialogue has commenced about the art, which acknowledges the pain and trauma experienced by the Stolen Generations, and so a step is taken towards reconciliation and emotional healing. The title of this paper, 'Koolark koort koorliny', (2) translates from the Nyungar language as 'heart coming home', and is symbolic of the sense of heart and healing that the Nyungar community has come to associate with the Carrolup artworks.

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This paper is a summary of the observations and experiences of two Curtin University academics who have been working closely with the John Curtin Gallery, where the artworks are housed. Michelle Johnston is recording the oral histories of the Carrolup artists and their families, and producing a documentary that tells the story of the Carrolup art. Simon Forrest is a Nyungar man and Elder in Residence at Curtin University. He leads the Carrolup Elders Reference Group, which was formed to advise the university on its responsibilities for the artworks and its commitment to sharing the art with the Nyungar community. The profound and positive impact that the art has had on the Nyungar community, as well as the wider non-Indigenous community, is presented here as a case study for others to cite as an example of Aboriginal cultural resilience. …

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